updated 6/25/2008 4:18:54 PM ET 2008-06-25T20:18:54

Seal hunters plan to club 86,000 seals in an annual hunt set to begin next week, as animal rights activists brace for a showdown with the government over a practice they regard as inhumane.

During this year's season — from July 1 to Nov. 15 — seal hunters will be allowed kill 6,000 adult males and 80,000 pups, a quota that remains the same as last year, said Moses Maurihungirire, director of resource management at the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources.

Maurihungirire said Tuesday that the seal population is healthy and not at risk of extinction, although the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists seals as endangered.

The government has said the seal hunt protects its fish stocks because seals consume 900,000 tons of fish a year, which is more than a third of the fishing industry's catch. The hunt also provides revenue from skins, fur and meat, and creates 149 jobs, Maurihungirire said.

But activists from Seal Alert South Africa said the country's seal population is no longer sustainable. Francois Hugo, of Seal Alert, said a colony on Cape Cross island was wiped out during last year's hunting season.

"Namibia's commercial sealing industry is 93 percent seal pup based," Hugo said, adding that the government is targeting nursing pups, rather than adults that eat fish.

The sparsely populated country is famous for the wildlife and desert landscape of its Skeleton Coast. Among the tourist attractions are the 850,000 seals that live on roughly a dozen rocky, remote islands off the southwest Atlantic coast.

"The markets for seal products are fast dying out," said Hugo, pointing to April's announcement by the European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas that he would propose a ban on all seal products from inhumane hunts.

This week Maurihungirire said the seal killing is humane because once a seal is clubbed or shot it is "pierced with a sharp object" to ensure it is dead before it is skinned, rather than skinning it alive.

At the beginning of last year's seal hunting season, the Namibian government set a three-year total allowable catch of 6,000 adult males and upped the number of pups to be killed by 20,000 to 80,000.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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