Date: 10 Oct 2009

Ringed Seals in the Gulf of Bothnia

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Abstract

The Baltic Sea harbours a tiny but increasing remnant of a formerly huge population of ringed seals that are adapted to the brackish waters there. These seals are of much concern. The population is small, red-listed and protected according to national and international regulations. We also use seals as environmental indicators. Furthermore, we should manage the seal population to avoid damage to fisheries.

Until now, we have counted ringed seals and looked at their health status. However, looking at population size and health status only is not enough. For practical management to work, we even have to look at fisheries and how these are affected by seals. We have to learn much more about the biology and ecology of the species. We also have to acknowledge the fact that Finland and Sweden share a common population.

Today, we lack concrete and measurable objectives for ringed seals in the Gulf of Bothnia regarding population increase, population size, and distribution, regarding the frequency and extent of damages that are tolerable to coastal fisheries, regarding the maximum number of by-catches, and regarding possible future hunting quota.

To acquire the information needed for informed management, we have to continue with what we already do (annual aerial surveys of population size, surveys of health status). We also have to further develop ongoing activities (better routines for reporting of survey results, regular and structured surveys of damage to fisheries and of seal mortality, intensified ecological research). Furthermore, we have to start up several new activities, such as viability analyses, attitude surveys and forums for management planning at the regional and the international scale.