Limited hunting of seals might be allowed in Latvia

Coastal fishermen have been complaining for years about the damage caused by seals to fishing gear, fish catches and the entire fish population in the Baltic Sea. The seal is a protected animal, the seal population is growing and there are now more than 60.000 grey seals in the Baltic Sea. The possibility of allowing some fishermen to hunt seals has been raised, Latvian Radio reported on May 17.

The association "Mazjūras zvejnieki" brings together 74 coastal fishermen. Andris Cīrulis, chairman of the association's board, said that fishermen have been talking about seal damage for 20 years, but the situation has become increasingly complicated in recent years. Seals eat up to two to three times more fish per year than coastal fishermen catch. 

"When we go out to sea every day, we see that the population is growing astronomically. Well, for example, one net costs about 70 euros, five nets are broken overnight, well, maybe not completely, but if 20% of them are broken, the next day it breaks again and that net is no longer usable. We have not calculated exactly, we cannot calculate how many fish are eaten that we do not get. There are times when [the seal] eats 90% of the fish that were in the nets," said Cīrulis.

Normunds Riekstiņš, director of the Fisheries Department at the Ministry of Agriculture, said that so far fishermen have received compensation for seal damage.

Riekstins said: "Every year, compensation is paid for lost catches and damaged fishing gear, but of course this is not a solution and, in principle, more and more compensation has to be paid and less and less is caught. What fishermen themselves could look for is some solutions, some innovative fishing gear that would protect them from the impact of seals, say more durable materials or seal repellents. There have been attempts to do something in this way, but Finland has repeatedly raised the issue - Finland, Estonia, Latvia too - that we need to look for a solution in the Baltic Sea region at the European Union level."

Researcher Ēriks Krūze from the Bior Institute said that during the year researchers assessed the grey seal population and concluded that, similar to other neighboring countries, in Latvia, grey seal deterrence should be encouraged to protect catches and fishing gear, and limited hunting of seals in close proximity to fishing gear should be initiated.

Cīrulis, a representative of coastal fishermen, said that until now Latvia was the only country where fishermen were not allowed to protect themselves against seals, let alone hunt them. In Estonia, for example, protective hunting is allowed.

Coastal fishermen are currently waiting for decisions from the Nature Conservation Agency and other responsible authorities so that they can protect their fishing gear and catch from seals in the future. 

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