Conservation of Ringed Seals, 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 at the end of the 19th Century due to bounty hunting and again during the 1960s due to the use of fishing nets made from nylon. The endangered population is around 360 (2016 figure), and threatened by the types of nets and traps used by recreational fishermen, increased tourism and climate change. This project will continue 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

EOCA Member POMOCA funded this project in 2016 and has agreed to fund the project again in 2017, to further the work of FANC to conserve these very rare and threatened seals.

Update 2017:
The team from FANC have worked very hard to build nest sites for the seals. With very little snow, winter conditions were not favourable, consequently the FANC team ploughed snow into piles to create nests at known nesting sites. Without this dedicated work, seal pups would have been born onto ice, without the protection of a nest. Their hard work proved successful, with three out of the four man-made snow nests being used.

FANC’s environmental education work continues to provide vital education on ringed seal conservation aimed at securing the future for these endangered animals. Numerous visits to nursery and primary schools around the region resulted in around 2000 pupils being engaged in ringed seal conservation. FANC also held summer education camps and events, as well as undertaking speeches at other public events around Finland to raise the profile of the importance of their work.

FANC continues it’s participation in the Ministry of the Environment’s Saimaa ringed seal working group, with various meetings and discussions to set goals and recommendations on seal protection.

The organisation continued its campaign work on ‘Fish right with a fish trap’: loose funnel fish traps threaten seal pups and are prohibited. Traps can be made safe for seals by adding ‘stoppers’. Last summer FANC made and distributed 4000 stoppers. The number of traps with loose funnels has reduced from 31% in 2012 to 12% in 2017. But work continues to reduce this further. FANC is now also promoting advice on making traps and how to use them correctly.

Next stages:
Educational awareness campaigns will continue and a questionnaire is to be distributed to fishermen who received the seal safe trap. The questionnaire will aim to find out how the trap compares to fishing nets and views on seal protection.