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Seals gobble half a million fish – commercial fisheries report almost 500K in losses

Professional fishermen in Finland are up in arms about damages to their catch and equipment from grey seals. Recent figures from the Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute estimate that the market value of fish lost to seals is 466,000 euros.

Harmaahylje eli halli.
The grey seal population of the Baltic Sea has grown in recent years. Image: Jaakko Kyläsalo / Yle

One third of the 1500 fishing units registered to commercially fish in sea areas reported losses from grey seals in 2013, according to Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute figures released on Friday. The total amount of damages claimed approaches half a million euros.

Approximately 28,000 grey seals were counted in the Baltic Sea area in 2013. The growth in the mid-2000s has focused on the archipelago off central Sweden. In the archipelago of southwestern Finland, grey seal numbers have plateaued.

In addition to the catch loss, fishing units said the grey seals ate or damaged 155 tonnes of fishing gear. Fishers of whitefish were most affected.

Image: Yle Uutisgrafiikka
Raiding the traps

Satellite tracking of seals by the Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute (FGFRI) in 2011-2012 revealed that some individual grey seals specialised in foraging at or near to trap-nets. Six out of 8 grey seals tracked tended to feed in areas with traps. This finding was supported by the frequent release of individual seals from the same pontoon trap-nets. Professional fishermen normally make an effort to prevent seals from getting into the traps by using a protection net.

Commercial fishing units reported damages from the grey seals when collating their catch report for the year. Some 70 percent reported their losses by species and kilos, while others simply described their losses by saying things like “the seals took everything.” 2013 figures modified such verbal descriptions into numeric equivalents for purposes of the report.

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