Don’t just seal a Canadian problem; The Baltic Sea Group is also pushing for solutions
Their story sounds so familiar you might think it comes from Atlantic Canada.
It’s a tale from halfway around the world but the theme is identical to a story often repeated in the fishing villages of the east coast of Canada.
Fishermen in coastal areas around the Baltic Sea – from Finland, Sweden and Estonia in particular – say seals are a nuisance and impact their ability to earn a living.
They say the mammals – mostly gray seals with a few ringed and harbor seals in the mix – are stealing fish from their nets, damaging their fishing gear, and likely impacting the region’s cod and herring stocks.
In May, Finland’s Local Fisheries Action Group (FLAG) called on the European Union (EU) and the Fisheries Commissioner to consider a cull of gray seals in the Baltic Sea.
The call for cull was one of the recommendations of the Baltic Sea Seal and Cormorant Project https://balticfisheries.com/
Launched in 2017 in cooperation with the Natural Resources Institute Finland (LUKE), the project includes participating countries such as Finland, Sweden, Estonia, Germany, Denmark and Poland.
Esko Taanila, one of the signatories of the letter, is the former director of the Southern Finland Fisheries Local Action Group (FLAG).
Currently, the gray seal population in the Baltic is around 50,000 to 70,000 animals.
In an interview with SaltWire, he said Swedish researchers said that again this year the population exceeded a sustainable level and the number of animals is expected to be around 20,000.
He said there is a growing opinion that if governments can have management plans for all other types of wildlife, they should have a management plan for seals.
Taanila said politics was one of the obstacles.
“The decision-makers know this because the fishermen’s associations have met parliamentarians in Finland and Sweden and everyone says they understand it. And if they do something about it, they will get the voters of the fishermen in the next election, and that could be 5,000 people. But they lose 500,000 (votes) in larger votes, ”Taanila said, alluding to the wider public opinion on the seal hunt.
Dr Sara Königson, a researcher in the Department of Aquatic Resources of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, is also involved in the Baltic Sea project.
She said that the total seal population in the Baltic, if you add ring seals and harbor seals, exceeds 100,000.
“The gray seal eats about seven kilograms of fish a day and studies have been done on how much fish it eats from different types of species,” she said, adding that “for some species they actually consume more than the actual fisheries in the region. “
Research has shown that the seals damage the fishing gear of inshore fishermen, as the animals seek out the fish caught in the gear, Konigson said.
She said several solutions are needed to deal with mammals.
“We need to look at many different solutions… mitigation measures with seal scarers… with alternative fishing gear, related to hunting. But I think we need to start limiting our increase, which is 5,000 seals a year… we need to think about how we can limit our population. “
Petri Suuronen, PhD and Senior Scientist at the Finnish Institute of Natural Resources (LUKE), said it is clear that “we are at the point where we need to reduce seal stocks because they are causing a lot of damage to our populations. coastal fisheries.
“Almost everyone agrees that seals damage catch and gear. And with regard to… seal predation… we also know that seals like to eat salmon and trout, and some of them are endangered.
Suuronen added that the task of convincing the EU to lift the ban on imports of seal products will be a challenge.
In the meantime, the focus may need to be on finding other solutions.
Marjo Tolvanen, head of the Baltic Sea Seals and Cormorants project, said work will continue. Project participants will meet in the fall to decide on the next steps to address the seal problem in the region.
Everyone agrees that changing the public’s perception of seals will be the most difficult task ahead, but it is important to keep trying.
“We FLAC also need to find a consensus with conservation organizations… so that they understand that this is not a good balance, even for fish. Because if it’s the fish population that’s devastated, then it’s not at all in harmony.
Taanilla added that if nothing is done for the seals, coastal fishermen and communities are in danger.
“Anyone who knows the situation knows that if we do nothing we will have no local fisherman and no local fish catch in the market, maybe five to seven years from now. “
The question people need to ask themselves, he said, is, “Is it normal that we have a lot of seals and if we don’t do anything we will mainly eat imported fish?” “
Meanwhile, scientists and inshore fishermen on Canada’s east coast remain at odds on the subject of seals.
This week, following a briefing from Dr Gary Stenson, Fisheries and Oceans seal scientist, the reaction was immediate and lively on social media.
Stenson said the Northwest Atlantic harp seal population – currently estimated at 7.5 million – was not “out of control” and animals were not the determining factor in stock rebuilding. northern cod, but the inshore fishing community strongly disagrees.
Since there appears to be common ground between Atlantic Canada and the Baltic Sea on the seal issue, members of the Baltic Sea Seal and Cormorant Project say they would welcome Canadians to their next virtual meetings.
“I think it could be very useful because one idea we have is to extend this Nordic project to EU level. And maybe Canada would be very good partners in that regard, ”Suuronen said.
“Canada would be very natural (partner) because you have a huge problem with seals. We have seen the numbers (on) how old your seal stocks are. It’s amazing you let this happen.