|OSLO - Foreign outrage at a Norwegian plan to let tourists go on seal-shooting trips is mostly "emotional nonsense," a senior official said this week.|
The Fisheries Ministry has invited foreigners on seal hunt tours from 2005 along Norway's spectacular fjords to help cull a growing seal population that Oslo says threatens fish stocks.
Some animal rights activists have called the plan barbaric, and others fear it may scare off more visitors than it attracts.
"The protests are based on twisted facts. It's mostly emotional nonsense," Halvard Johansen, deputy director general at Norway's Fishery Ministry, told Reuters. "Lambs are pretty cute as well but we eat them without any problem."
French movie star turned animal rights activist Brigitte Bardot, who has long condemned Norway for harpooning whales, has sent an open letter to Norwegians, calling the hunt a massacre.
"Do not accept that herds of blood-thirsty tourists visit your country with the sole purpose of harvesting the skin of these poor, innocent and peaceful animals that are completely incapable of fleeing," she said.
Norway has received about 500 written protests after a law change in June opened seal hunts for foreigners.
Oslo considers rifle hunts a humane way to cull seals.
"Clearly, it doesn't look pretty when the blood is pouring out in the water. But if you take a picture in a slaughterhouse that doesn't look very nice either," Johansen said.
A quarter of a seal body is blood, leaving streams of red water after hunts.
He said a typical misconception among protesters was that hunters were clubbing white harp and hooded seal pups with icepicks, which Norway stopped in 1989.
It resumed the hunt for harp and hooded seal in 1996 - but limited to non-suckling pups, or seals older than 8-10 days. However, the seal hunting that foreigners would take part in would solely be on adult harbor seal and gray seal.
Johansen said any tourist who wanted to hunt seals would need to be a skilled, licensed hunter and get a government permit. "There will be strict guidelines," he said.
Oslo says seals eat fish stocks, drive them from normal fishing grounds and transmit parasites. Fish is Norway's second biggest export business after oil. Oslo aims to hunt about 2,000 seals per year but manages only about 1,000.
He said Norway rode out international protests when Oslo defied an international ban by resuming commercial whaling in 1993, a year before hosting the Lillehammer Winter Olympics.
"Look at what happened when we resumed whaling - tourism took off. And look at Lofoten - the center of Norwegian whaling - they can't fit any more tourists there," Johansen said.
Story by Inger Sethov
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE