updated 11/19/2008 6:29:19 PM ET 2008-11-19T23:29:19

Canada's new fisheries minister said Wednesday she expects next year's commercial seal hunt will proceed as usual, despite a European Union proposal that threatens to ban seal products as early as 2009.

Gail Shea said she's upset the EU proposed legislation in July that could prohibit the import of Canadian seal pelts and other products.

The European Commission's proposed ban on importing seal products targets countries that "practice cruel hunting methods", and focuses on Canada because of claims by anti-hunt campaigners that it is the cruelest. Canadian seal hunters use spiked clubs or hakapiks and rifles to kill seals.

Shea said she doesn't plan to implement new regulations such as banning the hakapik, a hunting tool that some say conjures up a bloody image of the hunt.

Rebecca Aldworth, a spokeswoman for the Canadian branch of the Humane Society of the United States, disagreed with Shea that the hunt would proceed next year much as it has done so in the past.

"I think in a way it's avoiding the issue. This is obviously a fisheries minister who doesn't want to change the status quo," Aldworth said. "The problem is that the environment around the seal hunt is very much changing."

Canada has the largest marine mammal slaughter in the world, with the totally allowable catch hovering between 270,000 and 335,000 seals annually in the past three years.

An import ban could deliver a devastating blow to Atlantic Canadian fishermen who rely on the annual hunt as a source of income.

Activists believe the hunt is cruel, poorly monitored and provides little economic benefit.

The United States banned Canadian seal products in 1972. Several European Union nations, such as the Netherlands and Belgium, prohibit all seal products.

Canada's largest markets for seal products, such as Russia, China and Norway, are outside the EU. But sealing industry experts fear a ban would curb the demand for sealskins from the fashion industry and disrupt shipping routes.

The EU's proposed ban would only allow the import of seal products from countries that can guarantee their hunting practices are "consistent with high animal-welfare standards" and that the animals are killed without undue suffering. Special exemptions would also be allowed for Canada's Inuit community.

The European Parliament and the EU's 27 member countries are aiming to have a first reading of the proposed seal ban in March, just when the hunt is expected to resume. The measure needs the approval of all EU member states to succeed.

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

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