Her story sounds so familiar that you might think she came from the Atlantic.
It’s a story from half a world, but the theme is identical to a story that is often repeated in the fishing villages of Canada’s east coast.
Fishermen from the coastal areas around the Baltic Sea – particularly from Finland, Sweden and Estonia – say seals are a nuisance and affect their livelihoods.
They say the mammals – mostly gray seals with some ringlets and harbor seals in the mix – are stealing fish from their nets, damaging their fishing gear, and likely affecting cod and herring stocks in the area.
In May, Finland’s Local Fisheries Action Group (FLAG) asked the European Union (EU) and the Commissioner for Fisheries to consider culling gray seals in the Baltic Sea.
The call to cull was one of the recommendations of the Baltic Sea Seal and Cormoran Project https://balticfisheries.com/
The project started in 2017 in cooperation with the Natural Resources Institute Finland (LUKE) includes the participating countries Finland, Sweden, Estonia, Germany, Denmark and Poland.
Esko Taanila, one of the signatories to the letter, is a former head of the FLAG Local Fisheries Action Group.
The gray seal population in the Baltic Sea is currently around 50,000 to 70,000 animals.
In an interview with SaltWire, he said Swedish researchers had only said this year that the population had exceeded sustainable levels and the number of animals should be around 20,000.
He said there was a growing opinion that if governments could have management plans for all other species of wildlife, they should have a seal management plan.
Taanila said politics was one of the things that got in the way.
âThe decision-makers know about it because the fisheries associations in Finland and Sweden have met with MPs and everyone says they understand. And if they do something about it, they’ll get the fishermen’s vote in the next election, and that could be 5,000 people. But they lose 500,000 (votes) on wider votes, âTaanila said, alluding to wider public opinion on the seal hunt.
Dr. Sara KÃ¶nigson, researcher in the Department of Aquatic Resources at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, is involved in the Baltic Sea project.
She said the total seal population in the Baltic Sea, if you add ring seals and common seals, is over 100,000.
“The gray seal eats about seven kilos of fish a day and there are studies that have looked at how much they eat of different species,” she said, adding, “for some species they actually consume more than the actual fishery in the area. â
Research has shown that seals damage the fishing gear of inshore fishermen as the animals search for the fish they catch, Koenigson said.
She said several solutions are needed to deal with the mammals.
âWe have many different solutions to considerâ¦ seal horror mitigationâ¦ with alternative fishing gear in the context of hunting. But I think we have to start by limiting our increase, which is 5,000 seals a year … we have to think about how we can limit our population. “
Petri Suuronen, PhD and senior scientist at the Institute for Natural Resources of Finland (LUKE), said it was clear that âwe are at a level where we need to reduce seal populations because they are causing so much damage to our inshore fisheries.
âPretty much everyone agrees that the seal will damage the closures and the gears. And when it comes to … seal predation … we also know that seals like to eat salmon and trout and some of them are in danger. “
Suuronen added that it would be a challenge to convince the EU to lift the import ban on seal products.
In the meantime, the focus may therefore have to be on the search for other solutions.
Marjo Tolvanen, manager of the Baltic Sea Seals and Cormoran Project, said the work would continue. In autumn, the project participants meet to decide on the next steps in dealing with the seal problem in the region.
Everyone agrees that changing the public’s perception of seals will be the most daunting task, but it is important to keep trying.
âWe FLAC also have to find a consensus with the nature organizations … so that they understand that it is not a good balance, even for the fish. Because if the fish population is devastated, then it is not at all in harmony. “
Taanilla added that if nothing is done about the seals, coastal fishermen and communities are at risk.
“Anyone who knows the situation knows that if we don’t do anything, we won’t have a local fisherman or local fish on the market, maybe in five to seven years.”
The question people have to ask is, “Is it okay that we have a lot of seals and if we don’t do anything about it, we mostly eat imported fish”.
Meanwhile, science and inshore fishermen on Canada’s east coast are at odds over seals.
This week, after a briefing from Seal Scientist for Fisheries and Oceans Dr. Gary Stenson, immediately caused a violent backlash on social media.
Stenson said the Northwest Atlantic harp seal population – currently estimated at 7.5 million – is not “out of control” and the animals are not the driving force behind the recovery of northern cod stocks, but inshore fisheries disagree.
Since there seem to be similarities between Atlantic Canada and the Baltic Sea on the seal issue, the members of the Baltic Sea Seal and Cormorant Project would welcome the Canadians to their upcoming virtual meetings.
âI think it could be very useful because one idea we have is to extend this Nordic project to the EU level. And maybe Canada would be a very good partner in that regard, âsaid Suuronen.
âCanada would be very natural (partner) because you have a huge problem with seals. We saw the numbers (on) how much older your seal populations are. It’s amazing you make it happen. “