Sixteen seal meat and pelt traders, most of them from Canada, won a temporary reprieve from a European Union import ban that took effect today after an EU court issued a last-minute injunction.
In a victory for the seal trappers and slaughterers that filed a legal challenge, the EU’s General Court exempted them from the ban at least until it hears arguments in the case next month.
Hailed as landmark legislation by animal rights activists when it was passed last year, the ban will “very temporarily” not cover the Canadian hunters, EU spokeswoman Amelia Torres told reporters in Brussels today.
Canada, Greenland and Namibia account for 60 percent of the 900,000 seals killed in commercial hunts annually, according to EU data. Norway and Russia are the next biggest seal-trapping countries.
Seals are “sentient beings that can experience pain, distress, fear and other forms of suffering,” reads the EU law, passed by 550 to 49 in the European Parliament in May 2009.
Calling seal harvesting a “way of life,” the Canadian fisheries ministry says a “healthy and abundant” population of 6.9 million harp seals in the north Atlantic Ocean isn’t threatened by commercial hunters.
In March, the ministry increased the 2010 quota for the harp seal harvest by 18 percent to 330,000. It left quotas unchanged at 50,000 for gray seals and 8,200 for hooded seals.
The injunction from the Luxembourg-based EU court was disclosed yesterday by a group representing Canada’s Inuit Eskimoes, who opposed the ban even though their subsistence hunting was exempted.
The European animal-rights measure is “totally unjustified,” Mary Simon, head of Canada’s national Inuit organization, said in a statement on the group’s website.
The temporary reprieve covers only the people and organizations behind the court case, including the Canadian Seal Marketing Group, Torres said. She didn’t say how much of the seal trade they represent.
The court set a Sept. 7 deadline for the EU to respond to the injunction. The court will then decide whether to extend the reprieve for the duration of the case.