A seal hunter dragged a harp seal carcass on an ice pan off the coast of Cape Breton island, Nova Scotia, last year.
In a blunt challenge to Canada and thousands of Canadian seal hunters, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to ban the importing or sale of furs and other products from commercially harvested seals.
The ban would mainly affect Canada, where the government has allowed several hundred thousand young harp seals to be killed each year by commercial and traditional hunters on sea ice cloaking eastern and Arctic waters.
Canadian officials immediately criticized the ban, which could take effect within several weeks, for not exempting countries like Canada that have guidelines requiring humane, sustainable hunts.
Stockwell Day, the Canadian minister of international trade, said that if the European Union did not exempt Canada, it would challenge the ban at the World Trade Organization.
The vote, in Strasbourg, France, applies to all 27 countries in the European Union. It came as Canadian and European leaders prepared to gather in Prague for a meeting focused on free trade.
The vote, 550 to 49 with 41 abstentions, was welcomed by animal welfare groups that have fought the seal hunts for decades.
Animal welfare campaigners said that while in the late 1980s Canada banned the clubbing of the youngest pups with pure white pelts, the majority of seals killed are still no more than a month or two old.
Lesley O’Donnell, the director of the European branch of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, described the European vote as the “final nail in the coffin” of the Canadian seal industry’s market in Europe.
The main value is in the seals’ spotted coats, but there is also a market for dietary supplements like omega-3 fatty acids that can be derived from the seals.
Most other international markets have been eliminated as a growing list of countries, including the United States and Mexico, have banned most imports of seal pelts.
Several million dollars in furs and other goods have flowed to Europe annually, primarily through Denmark and Italy, according to the European Parliament Web site.
The European ban would not cover products from seals killed in subsistence hunts by the Inuit and other indigenous northern communities.