Fishing-net death toll of endangered seals rises in Finland

YLE NewsEye on the Arctic

A seal pup belonging to a rare and endangered species found only in Finland has been killed after becoming entangled in a fishing net in Pihlajavesi in the east of the country.

The incident brings this year’s fishing-related death toll of Saimaa ringed seals, which have had protected status since 1955, up to six.

The Saimaa ringed seal is one of the world’s most endangered species of seal, with only about 310 animals currently alive.

The owner of the fishing equipment informed researchers at the University of Eastern Finland of the animal’s death on Wednesday.

Out of the six rare seals killed so far this year in fishing-net accidents, five have been young pups.

Voluntary ban on net-fishing

Over the summer months, a voluntary ban on net fishing is in force on parts of the lake, in an attempt to prevent fishing related deaths. However, the seal pup killed on Wednesday was not swimming in an area where the use of fishing equipment is restricted.

"Saimaa ringed seal pups are currently fishing actively. Unfortunately it seems that perch and pike-perch fishermen are also deploying nets in the same areas,” said researcher Mervi Kunnasranta from the University of Eastern Finland.

The National Coalition Party’s Agriculture and Forestry Minister, Petteri Orpo, has pledged to re-examine current measures in force to protect the endangered species, which will come up for renewal in the autumn.

Although much of the fishing in Finland’s eastern Saimaa lake district is recreational, the government has introduced reimbursements for professional fishermen who suffer loss of income as a result of the voluntary ban on fishing with nets.

However, campaigners have criticized the measures for not being tough enough, and have called for an outright legal ban on net fishing in the region.

The University of Eastern Finland say that the seal that died this week had been fitted with a radio transmitter. Two remaining seal pups are also carrying transmitters.

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch News as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.