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U.S. wholesaler joins boycott over seal-pup hunt

May 10, 2005

NEW YORK, TORONTO -- Calling Newfoundland's seal hunt barbaric, Legal Seafoods, a major U.S. restaurant chain and wholesaler, has joined a growing boycott of Atlantic-Canadian seafood in an effort to force an end to the annual seal-pup harvest.

Legal has added its name to a list of prominent restaurants, including Tavern on the Green in New York's Central Park, and grocers such as Whole Foods Market, that have joined a protest action, organized by the Humane Society of the United States, to force the Canadian government to end the hunt.

A Humane Society spokesperson said yesterday that the boycott is just the first step in an effort to shame Canada in the eyes of the world. It plans to launch advertising soon denouncing the slaughter of the doe-eyed pups; such campaigns have succeeded before in galvanizing widespread opposition to the hunt, particularly in Europe.

The boycott comes as Frank McKenna, Canadian ambassador to the United States, makes a series of appearances across the country in an attempt to raise Canada's profile. He is due in New York today to deliver a luncheon speech and meet with U.S. opinion leaders and news media.

He is certain to face questions on the seal hunt, which animal-welfare activists condemn as cruel and unnecessary.

Legal vice-president Bill Holler said the company, which has 31 outlets including flagship restaurants in Boston and New York, typically gets about 5 per cent of its seafood from Newfoundland. He declined to give a dollar value, but the produce includes snow crabs, lobsters and ground fish.

Mr. Holler said Legal would not oppose a harvest of adult seals, but objects to the current practice of harvesting young ones.

"We believe the methodology used in the harvest and the actual taking of the juveniles are practices that are basically barbaric," he said in an interview yesterday.

"We firmly believe in the culture of the seal hunt and we're not trying to violate the culture of the seal hunt. But there needs to be a more humane way to dispatch these animals instead of it being a golf tournament out there."

Mr. Holler was responding to allegations that sealers have used golf clubs to kill their prey.

Legal has put a planned major promotion of Canadian snow crab on ice to back its demands for major changes to the seal hunt, he said.

Whole Foods vice-president Margaret Wittenberg said the chain of organic food stores typically carries a range of Canadian seafood in season, including lobster, shrimp and mussels.

But as of yesterday, the chain's 168 stores, including three outlets in Vancouver, Toronto and Oakville, Ont., were carrying signs in produce sections, telling customers that they will not carry items from Newfoundland or Prince Edward Island until the seal hunt is outlawed.

Newfoundland Fisheries Minister Trevor Taylor defended the seal harvest, which was expected to take more than 300,000 harp seals in a brief season in April and May. Mr. Taylor said the seal hunt is no worse than the slaughter of cattle and pigs in abattoirs.

"The hunt is carried on in a sustainable way and in a humane way, in as humane a way you can make any killing," he said.