The Canadian government will challenge a proposed European ban on sealing products which would result in "a very serious blow to the industry," International Trade Minister Stockwell Day said Tuesday.

The EU ban will likely become law by the end of June, at which point, Ottawa will quickly respond with an appeal to the World Trade Organization, Day told reporters in Prague Tuesday, where he's attending free trade talks with European leaders.

The contentious bill, which passed on Tuesday with 550 votes in favour to 49 against, calls commercial seal hunting "inherently inhumane."

"We plan to do that, because the vote is not based on the fact Canada follows international guidelines and best practices regarding the seal hunt," Day said.

Day added that Canada should be exempt from the ban on the grounds that the seal hunt in Atlantic Canada is humane and sustainable.

He also said the proposed ban could devastate small Canadian communities on the east coast that depend on the seal hunt for at least a quarter of their annual income.

"If you're one of the 6,000 families who are being affected, you would call it disastrous, and that's what it is," said Day.

All 27-member governments of the European Union are expected to endorse the ban in the coming weeks, which will likely ensure that the restrictions are in place before next year's seal hunt.

Liberal MP Gerry Byrne said Prime Minister Stephen Harper needs to stick up for the country's sealers, who have been dealt a crippling blow by the ban, which may even be illegal.

"The international trade community all agree that this EU ban is illegal," he said in a brief phone interview on Tuesday morning.

"Where was the prime minister three weeks ago?" asked Byrne, referring to when the prime minister attended the most recent G20 meeting in London.

He said the prime minister should have pushed Canada's European colleagues to "denounce the illegal trade action" that will ban the import of Canadian seal products.

Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Gail Shea blamed the ban on special interest groups who have misled the European public with an aggressive public relations campaign over the past few years.

For example, Shea said anti-sealing activists have used images of bloodied seal pups to shock Europeans, despite the fact that "Canada has not killed a white seal pup in over 20 years."

Shea noted that high-profile activists like Brigitte Bardot have also dealt the seal hunt a punishing blow in the court of public opinion.

"Politicians will tell you privately that this isn't a decision based on fact, this is a decision based on emotion," Shea told reporters in Ottawa Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the fisheries minister of Newfoundland and Labrador also called on Harper to take action against the seal ban.

Tom Hedderson said the prime minister should make a retraction of the seal ban a condition of trade talks in Prague this week.

Critics of hunt call ban 'tremendous victory'

Long-time critics of the sealing practice in Canada, however, were pleased to see the bill go through the European Parliament.

Rebecca Aldworth, with the Canadian branch of the Humane Society International, called the bill's passage a "tremendous victory."

Inuit communities from Canada and Greenland are exempted in the bill but they still cannot engage in large-scale trading of seal products in Europe.

Another exemption allows for "small-scale hunts" to control the seal population.

But Inuit groups are still concerned how the ban may affect their livelihood.

Joshua Kango, who heads the Nunavut-based Amarok hunters and trappers association, said the ban "is definitely going to impact the lives of the Inuit in the very near future."

"We don't have any other way to survive economically," he told The Associated Press.

Russia, China and Norway will also be affected by the ban but the Canadian industry, the largest in the world, is expected to be hit the hardest.

Canada and Norway have said they will contest the ban before the World Trade Organization.

Ottawa estimates that the ban will cost some 6,000 sealers in Canada about half of their annual $13 million in revenue.

Already, this year's commercial seal hunt was very quiet as harp seal pelt prices have dropped significantly over the last three years.

Only 306 sealing enterprises from Newfoundland and Labrador took part in this year's hunt, compared with 977 last year, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans confirmed.

"For the Newfoundland and Labrador sealers, the seal hunt this year has gone very slowly compared to other years," Larry Yetman, a resource management officer with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, told The Canadian Press.

EU ban result of public opinion, says official

Diana Wallis, Vice President of the European Parliament, said the ban is the result of sweeping public opinion.

"There are many, many people across the European Union and they have been lobbying us very hard to say, they do not wish to see the products of the seal hunt being sold on Europe's market," she told CTV Newsnet in a telephone interview from Strasbourg, France.

"I'm afraid that we have had to listen to them and we have had to act accordingly."

Wallis added that the European ban takes into account both the traditional Inuit hunt and hunting for the purposes of conserving depleted cod stocks.

"We have indicated that where seals are killed on the basis of sustainability the products of that hunt may enter our market, as long as it has not been done for commercial purposes."

Liberal Sen. Mac Harb, the only Member of Parliament who opposes the seal hunt, said he was pleased with the EU ban.

But he expressed disappointment that the government plans to mount a legal challenge to the WTO that will cost millions of dollars and has little chance of success.

"I'm disappointed because the government of Canada has no action plan to support these sealers, who now, they are going to find themselves without a market," he told CTV's Power Play on Tuesday.

With files from The Canadian Press