TORONTO (AP) _ Outraged at a rising seal hunting limit, animal rights activists are calling for protests at Canada's foreign offices.

The government this year increased the harp seal quota from 186,000 to 250,000 harp seals, arguing that the population was rapidly increasing and contributing to declining codfish stocks, and that harvesting the seals can bring income to an economically depressed region.

Animal rights groups deny each of these claims. Ainslie Willock of the Animal Alliance of Canada said the increased quota was a veiled attempt by the government to win the support of seal-hunting communities.

``Seals are political scapegoats,'' said Willock. ``What's at stake are Newfoundland votes.''

She said the alliance is organizing protests for March 1 at Canadian embassies and tourist offices worldwide. The alliance said similar groups in Canada, the United States and Europe were participating.

There has been no major demand for seal pelts since the 1980s European Community ban on the white fur of seal pups, Willock said.

Tina Fagan, executive director of the sealers association, countered that there are confirmed markets for 230,000 pelts this year and for ``millions of pounds of meat.''

Jean Hache, a senior advisor in the fisheries department, says government scientists believe the harp seal population has doubled to 4.8 million since 1980. The animals eat 142,000 tons of codfish a year, and are a major factor in stock depletion.

``This is an abundant marine resource and there is no reason why we would not, keeping in mind conservation principles, make use of it,'' Hache added.