Seal pup warnings as Saimaa fishing net ban comes to an end

A bad winter for breeding means that Saimaa Ringed Seal pups are likely to be in more danger when a restriction on using nets for fishing expires at midnight.

File picture of Saimaa ringed seal / Credit: WWFSuomi Instagram

A seasonal ban on fishing nets in parts of Lake Saimaa, put in place to protect rare Saimaa Ringed Seal pups, comes to an end today.

It means that from Wednesday 1st July, fishermen on the Saimaa lake system will be able to use nets which conservationists say are dangerous to seal pups.

Last year a citizen’s initiative to move the date for introducing net fishing back by another month got enough signatures to be considered by parliament, with ministers saying they will look to change regulations for 2021.

But this year conservationists are calling on fisherman to delay their use of the nets even after the restrictions have ended – in July 2019 five ringed seal pups died in nets in the first weeks they were used.

“Because of the very bad snow and ice conditions in the winter, our knowledge of the number of seal pups born is very poor this year. We presume it was lower than usual due to the bad conditions, but we have to assume also that more pups were killed this winter either by weather conditions or predators and there is less pups around than normal” explains Petteri Tolvanen, Head of Programmes for Finnish Biodiversity at WWF Suomi.

“Therefore it is even more important not to fish with nets this July” he adds.

File picture of Saimaa ringed seal in ice / Credit: Juha Taskinen, Finnish Association for Nature Conservation

How does the net fishing ban work in practice?

The current legislation on fishing has two elements. The use of certain types of fishing gear is restricted all year round, and then net fishing is restricted from mid-April until the end of June.

It’s a slightly awkward set of rules: the law defines the core area where Saimma Ringed Seals are breeding, and then the fishermen who operate there can voluntarily agree not to fish, and are compensated by the state. If they don’t volunteer to stop fishing, then the law steps in at that point and bans it anyway.

And then outside the defined breeding grounds, there are other areas where there is a voluntary ban on fishing which owners can sign up to and help protect the rare ringed seals. WWF says many people have signed up voluntarily to be part of the scheme to restrict fishing and help preserve the seal population.

“We think the ban should be expanded until at least the end of July. Of course there is variation between the years, but we know there is a high risk for pups still during summer”  Petteri Tolvanen tells News Now Finland.

A committee in parliament is currently looking at the options from maintaining the status quo, to banning all net fishing, to extending the current restrictions.

It is believed there are around 415 ringed seals left in the Saimaa lake system.