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Saimaa seal pup dies in fishing net one day after ban lifted

July is the most important fishing month of the year, but nets are a constant threat to the endangered Saimaa ringed seal.

Saimaannorpan kuutti hiekalla
File photo of a Saimaa ringed seal pup. Image: Petri Vironen / Yle

A Saimaa seal pup has been found dead in a fishing net, one day after the annual springtime ban on fishing with nets on Lake Saimaa was lifted.

The Saimaa ringed seal, native to the Lake Saimaa region of southeast Finland, is one of the world's most endangered and rarest subspecies.

The state-owned parks and wildlife management firm Metsähallitus, as well as Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Krista Mikkonen (Green), have appealed to people fishing in the Lake Saimaa region to avoid using nets even though the ban has been lifted.

Metsähallitus has stepped up its surveillance of the area by hiring an inspector and two seasonal supervisors until the end of July, with the aim of ensuring that people adhere to the regulations put in place to protect the Saimaa ringed seal.

"We have completed a few days of supervision, and so far we have not found very many nets," inspector Paavo Väisänen said.

Calls for extension of ban on fishing nets

The World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation, the Saimaa Ring Club and the University of Eastern Finland have all proposed a total ban on net fishing in Lake Saimaa until the end of July.

"The purpose of the July restriction would be that the pups would have time to grow so much that they would no longer get caught in the nets," Väisänen added.

July is the most important month for commercial fish catchers, and net fishing poses the biggest threat to the Saimaa ringed seal.

Roughly 80 percent of the Saimaa ringed seals that have died in fishing nets are pups of less than 24kg in weight. On average, a pup reaches a weight of 24 kilograms in August.

According to Metsähallitus' statistics, 25 ringed seals have died so far this year, of which two were found in fishing nets.

"As long as a single net is in the water, it is always possible for a ringed seal to go into it," Väisänen said.

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