MOSCOW (AP) – Russia said Wednesday it was banning the hunting of baby harp seals, weeks after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin reportedly called the hunt a “bloody industry.”

The Natural Resources Ministry said the Federal Fisheries Agency issued an order Wednesday protecting harp seals pups up to 1 year old.

“The bloody sight of the hunting of seals, the slaughter of these defenseless animals, which you cannot even call a real hunt, is banned in our country, just as well as in most developed countries, and this is a serious step to protect the biodiversity of the Russian Federation,” Minister Yuri Trutnev said in a statement.

It was not immediately clear whether the ban included exceptions for indigenous communities.

Russia’s harp seal population has decreased by about a third in the past decade, to about 200,000 – squeezed by hunting as well as shrinking Arctic ice in the White Sea region, where much of the Russian population lives.

According to the state-run newspaper Rossisskaya Gazeta, Putin told a Cabinet meeting Feb. 26 he considered seal hunting a “bloody industry and it’s clear that it should have been banned long ago.”

In addition to Russia, commercial seal hunting is conducted in Namibia, Greenland, Sweden, and Finland, as well as in Canada, which is home to the world’s largest annual commercial seal hunt.

AP-ES-03-18-09 1459EDT

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