Winter fishing nets continue to threaten Saimaa ringed seals 

Two female seals were found dead, caught in nets during February - as experts warn the population of 400 animals is not enough to guarantee the survival of the rare species.

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A Saimaa Ringed Seal basks on a rock, in a still image taken from WWF Suomi webcam / Credit: WWF Suomi

The Finnish Association for Nature Conservation FANC says that rare Saimaa ringed seals are being threatened by winter fishing nets, after two of the animals were found dead recently.

Much of the concerns about net fishing in the Saimaa lake system have focused on spring fishing nets but over the last 20 years statistics from FANC show that about a third of all the deaths have been in winter nets.

“Year-round fishing mortality continues to unnecessarily tax the Saimaa ringed seal stock. All forms of net fishing in Saimaa must be abandoned all year round” says Kaarina Tiainen, an expert on the species at FANC.

“Even today, Lake Saimaa could support thousands of ringed seals, and still have enough fish for human needs” she adds.

The rare ringed seal population hit a high of 400 individuals last year but experts warn this is still not enough to sustain a healthy population.

A mild winter can also mean there’s not the right conditions to make nests from snow and ice to birth pups, leaving them less protected.

Seal pups born on open ice or on the beach are at increased risk of freezing, and from small predators like fox, and human disturbance.

FANC estimates that up to half of new born seals could perish without the right kind of snow nest protection – usually, mortality is around 8%.

The two female Saimaa ringed seals that were killed were found in nets during February and weighed 35kg and 47kg.

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