[QUOTE][Ottawa - Canada on Monday set a limit for its annual seal harvest this year of 275 000 harp seals, and announced new rules to make the slaughter less cruel as well as curb international protests over the hunt.
The quota includes allocations of 2 000 seals for personal use and almost 5 000 seals for aboriginal hunters, as well as 16 000 seals carried over from last year for commercial fleets that did not capture their 2007 quota, fisheries officials said.
As well, Canada has adopted recommendations of the Independent Veterinarians Working Group to "ensure beyond any possible doubt that a seal is dead before it's skinned", said fisheries spokesperson Phil Jenkins.
Its implementation comes just as the European Union weighs a ban on seal imports that could devastate the industry, but Jenkins denies being pushed into adopting the stricter killing method.
Rather, he said it took three years of consultations with sealers to vet the regulations, which start this year as a condition of holding a seal hunting license, and will appear in marine mammal regulations in 2009.
The new rules require hunters to check an animal's pupils for a blinking reflex, and to slit its main arteries under its flippers, after striking or shooting a seal.
"In almost all cases, the first strike of a hakapik (club) or a shot of a rifle is enough. But we want to make sure (it's dead)," Jenkins said.
In recent years, demonstrators in Europe and North America have denounced the "cruelty" of seal hunting.
The Dalai Lama, Paul McCartney, French film legend Brigitte Bardot, actors Kim Bassinger, Juliette Binoche and Richard Dean Anderson, and Canadian-born actress and former Playboy model Pamela Anderson, among many others, have campaigned against the hunt.
A Connecticut businesswoman even offered sealers $16m - the estimated value of commercial seal meat and pelts for thousands of local fisherman - to end a controversial hunt.
And each year, animal rights groups have been out in force, stripping naked in front of parliament, dousing themselves in red paint to protest the seal hunt and holding press conferences with photos of hunters clubbing fluffy white seal cubs.
Canada banned the killing of the youngest seals, less than 12 days old, in 1987 amid criticisms and threats of European boycotts that pushed the industry to the brink of collapse.
Since then, the protests largely disappeared. But Canada awoke the wrath of activists in 2003 by approving a three-year cull of about 975 000 seals after estimating their population had ballooned - now at 5.5 million, nearly triple the number in the 1970s.
Hunt 'poses no threat'
This coincided with the opening of new markets in China and Russia.
Belgium and the Netherlands have since banned imports of seal products, and last month, Germany proposed its own ban.
But Ottawa maintains the hunt poses no threat to the harp seal population, and insists the commercial cull is an economic mainstay of its Atlantic Coast communities.
The opening of the hunt, which usually kicks off in late March or April in the southern Gulf of St Lawrence, has not yet been announced.
F/ckin terrible news ...how can u look in to those big eyes and then kill it, words fail