Conservation of Ringed Seals 2023, Lake Saimaa, Finland

The Finnish Association for Nature Conservation (FANC) is the largest non-governmental organization for environmental protection and nature conservation in Finland. Its purpose is to protect the environment, promote nature conservation, preserve cultural heritage, and promote active citizenship and environmental awareness.

The Saimaa ringed seal is a sub species of the ringed seal and was isolated from the Baltic Sea in Lake Saimaa, Finland around 8,000 years ago. The population was reduced drastically by bounty hunting until the 1940s and again during the 1960s due to the use of fishing nets made from nylon. The endangered population is around 430-440 (2022 figure), and threatened by by-catch mortality caused by certain types of nets and traps used by recreational fishermen, narrowing habitat due to increased lakeshore building, and climate change causing challenges for the seals’ nesting in winters. POMOCA has been putting funding into this project since 2016, supporting the continuation of the work of FANC with recreational fishermen, tourism providers and local communities to ensure the survival and protection of the Saimaa ringed seal into the future.

The Update

Another busy year for FANC, starting with securing nesting for the seals in South Karelia and South Savo by plowing a total of 12 man-made snow drifts. Although seals prefer natural lairs, man-made snow drifts are often stronger and last longer, consequently, they can help in mild winters when there is little snow. Monitoring later in the spring found that some of the snow drifts had been used by seals for resting, and a seal pup had been born in one of the drifts!

FANC organized 30 workshops for building seal-safe “Saimaa” fish traps. Workshops were organized for school groups, the general public, volunteers, members of the water district owners’ associations, and Members of the Finnish Parliament. In total some 200 seal-safe “Saimaa” fish traps were built at the workshops. Some of these traps were purchased by participants, others were donated to FANC and handed out free of charge to the Saimaa area recreational fishers in the “Replace Fishing Nets with Fish Traps” event in Joroinen in June. At this event, fishers signed a contract promising to refrain from future fishing with nets on Lake Saimaa. Over 100 fish traps were handed out at this event. In exchange, FANC also received some 2 kilometres of obsolete fishing nets.

Anyone can build a “Saimaa” fish trap: instructions and information about the necessary materials and tools can be found in the brochure produced by FANC here.

At the beginning of the year, FANC organised a Saimaa ringed seal themed exhibition, titled “Seal Vision – Views of the Saimaa Ringed Seal”. The exhibition was on display at Galleria Pihatto in Lappeenranta and in Riihisaari, Savonlinna. A total of about 5,000 people visited the exhibition.

Saimaa ringed seal pups are born annually around Nestori’s name day (February 26). To celebrate the birth of the pups, FANC organised a “Seal Pup’s Birthday”. This was a public event aimed at the whole family, at Sulosaari island shed in Savonlinna in February. FANC also organized smaller public events and participated in events organized by others reaching a total of some 1,000 people.

Continuing with education, FANC toured their “Seal’s Lake Saimaa” exhibition in schools and libraries. The exhibition tells about the Saimaa ringed seal and its habitat with the help of cartoons, videos, pictures, texts and a sculpture. Their exhibition reached around 4,500 people. In addition, FANC financed the traditional annual Children’s Seal Camp, organised by the Savo-Karelia district of Luonto-Liitto.

FANC also continues to have a representative in the “Saimaa Ringed Seal and Fishing” working group of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, and in the “Saimaa Ringed Seal Conservation” working group of the Ministry of the Environment, working on improving Saimaa ringed seal conservation.

Many thanks to POMOCA for its continued support of this project.