MONTREAL, March 11, 2009 (AFP) - A Quebec environmental group on Wednesday called on the European Parliament not to ban seal products, saying it would hurt the Gulf of Saint Lawrence ecosystem and local communities.
Nature Quebec, part of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), said in a letter to EU parliamentarians that a proposed ban 'could have grave consequences' for residents of the Magdalen Islands and Newfoundland province.
If the 350-year-old seal hunt were stopped now it also would damage the 'ecological balance' of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, it said.
The group cites studies which found that the seal population, if unchecked, would boom and threaten North Atlantic cod stocks.
It also notes that the annual cull does not threaten the local seal population, estimated at 5.5 million in 2006.
Last week, the European Union's legislative branch voted to ban products derived from seals from being imported into the EU, exported from it, or even transported through EU territory.
The Canadian government responded with an ardent defense of the 'humaneness' of seal-hunting and rejected efforts to outlaw the practice.
The full European Parliament is to vote on the ban at a April 1 plenary session in Brussels. The measure also has to be approved by EU governments before it can be implemented.
Each year, animal rights groups clash with sealers and Canadian fisheries officials on Canada's Atlantic coast, denouncing the hunt as cruel.
'In our opinion, the international campaign against (the hunt) has no scientific foundation and has nothing to do with the way the animals are treated,' Nature Quebec said.
The group's director Christian Simard told AFP: 'From an ecological standpoint, widespread opposition to the seal hunt is due to the graphic nature of bloody images of seals being clubbed to death.'
Seals are hunted mainly for their pelts, but also for meat and fat, which is used in beauty products.
According to the European Commission, Canada, Greenland, and Namibia account for about 60 percent of the 900,000 seals hunted each year, with Canada being the biggest source.
Seals are also hunted in Iceland, Norway, Russia, and the United States as well as in EU member states Britain, Finland and Sweden.