Ottawa says it wants to make sealing more humane by restricting how hunters use the controversial hakapik club. The government faces pressure from the European Union, which has threatened to ban imports of Canadian seal products next year.

The hakapik is a spiked club first developed by Norwegians and is designed to deliver a lethal blow to the animal. But critics say the tool is a symbol of the cruelty of the hunt.

On Saturday, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans released a report on amending the Marine Mammal Regulations (MMR).

The amendments "are proposed to provide for a more acceptable humane method of harvesting seals," says the executive summary of the proposed regulations.

"The proposal would modify the three-step process (stunning, checking, and bleeding the seals) to prohibit the use of a hakapik or club for seals over one year old, to require sealers to verify death only through palpation of the skull and to require the animal to be bled for one minute prior to skinning."

It's believed most sealers already use rifles to slaughter seals. But last April,

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams called for an outright ban of the hakapik.

More than 70 per cent of the seals are killed off the north coast of the province.

However, many hunters in the Gulf of St. Lawrence favour the hakapik because they work in close proximity to one another, so rifles would be too dangerous.

The European Union has proposed a ban on seal products from countries that "practice cruel methods" -- that could include bludgeoning seals with a hakapik.

Rebecca Aldworth, spokesperson for Humane Society International, told CTV Newsnet on Saturday that the move to ban the hakapik was "a cynical and cosmestic gesture by the federal government to cover up the cruelty of the commercial seal hunt in the wake of the European Union ban on seal product trade."

Sealer Jack Troake, of Twillingate, N.L., told The Canadian Press that most seal hunters use a rifle to hunt their prey rather than a hakapik.

"We're trying to appease the protest movement (with the new regulations)," he said Saturday.

"We've been doing this for years."

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans said the new restrictions would ensure sealers are still able to make a living, by ensuring Canada would not come under any EU ban.

"Implementing the proposal would help to maintain market access for an industry with a present export value of ($13 million)," says the document.

"The proposal makes it possible to maintain an important economic activity for the coastal people of Canada," it adds. "It would also align itself with the latest veterinary advice and recommendations, requests of the European Union, and concerns from animal welfare groups."

The DFO report also estimates how much it would cost to implement the proposed restrictions: $1.8 million to $3.6 million. That amount would include increased costs to sealers and local coast guard crews.

Along with preventing hunters from using the hakapik as the primary tool to kill seals, the restrictions would also clarify the process of harvesting. The three-step process includes stunning the seal, confirming its death and bleeding the animal.

To ensure sealers follow the guidelines in 2009, the DFO says it would use helicopter-mounted cameras to film the hunt. Actual enforcement would be carried out by coast guard officials aboard icebreaker vessels.

Aldworth said "the overwhelming majority of Canadians want the seal hunt to be ended."

"So, if we're going to invest public resources in the seal hunt, it should be in ending the seal hunt and finding constructive solutions for the communities that are impacted by ending that hunt," she said.

With files from The Canadian Press