Seal-hunting becomes tourist sport in Norway
Amidst scathing criticism from environmental groups, Norway has given the green light for foreign tourists to hunt seals in the Scandinavian country, officials said on Thursday.
"Based on a parliamentary decision last year, we are authorizing foreign hunters, and I emphasize hunters because they must have a hunting license, to come hunt seals here if they are accompanied by a Norwegian hunting company," Sigbjoern Larsen, a spokesman for the ministry of fisheries and coastal affairs, told AFP.
Norway decided last year to permit specialized tour operators to ferry in seal-hunters from abroad, and this month issued the official authorization to let the hunts begin.
"We have long lists and will get started as soon as the weather permits, something we expect to happen in the beginning of March. Then we'll continue through April 15," Roger Eidem of tour operator Norsafari told Norwegian the daily Broennoeysunds Avis.
The Norwegian government insists that too many seals damage the country's fishing industry and also harm the seals themselves, and has fixed a quota of about 2,100 authorized killings per year.
"When there are too many seals, they eat a lot of fish and illnesses spread amongst the animals," Larsen said, pointing out that local hunters have generally not been able to meet the quota.
"Now foreign hunters can help cull the seals in the Norwegian quota," he said, adding that seal-hunting will remain strictly forbidden in the period when mother seals are nursing, and that baby seals are off limits.
The Norwegian chapter of environmental group Greenpeace meanwhile insists that seals have nothing to do with problems in Norway's fishing industry, which it says are caused by fishing quotas that are too high.
"We still recommend that the idea of tourist hunts for seals be put on ice and that (the government) stop blaming the seals for its bad fishing policy," Greenpeace official Truls Gulowsen said in a statement.
The organization also said it had little patience with government claims that the move will bolster Norway's tourism industry, insisting that tourists are more likely to be frightened than attracted by the pastime.
"Most tourists who come to Norway want to experience pure nature and not shoot seals," Gulowsen said.
Animal-rights activists already point the finger at Norway for being the only nation to officially allow commercial whale-harpooning.