Estonia sets seal hunting quota at 55

Gray seal (Halichoerus grypus)
Gray seal (Halichoerus grypus) Source: Environmental Board

Hunters can kill 55 gray seals or 1 percent of the population as of 2021 this hunting season, set to kick off on April 15. Unlike in previous years, gray seals can also be hunted on bodies of water that fall outside hunting districts.

The aim of seal hunting is to prevent and alleviate damage the animals cause fishermen. The gray seal hunting volume is distributed between three regions – in 2022, hunters can kill 35 specimens in the Gulf of Livonia, ten on the north and west coast of the western islands and ten in the Gulf of Finland, the Environmental Board said.

Unlike in previous years, gray seals can be hunted on bodies of water bordering the official hunting districts this season to prevent seal damages. Seal hunting is prohibited in protected areas.

The Baltic Sea is home to some 30,000 gray seals. The spring-summer aerial survey counted 5,898 molting seals on Estonian breeding grounds, which is the largest number for the last 20 years.

"The Estonian gray seal population has been improving in recent years. Seal numbers have swelled the most in the western part of Saaremaa and the north of Hiiumaa, Margo Tannik, chief hunting specialist for the board, told ERR.

Because gray seal populations are not settled in the area and hunting volume has been distributed largely based on local interests, the Environmental Board reserves the right to redistribute the volume between regions.

In previous years, hunters have filled 25-50 percent of the gray seal quota. Most seals have been hunted in the Kihnu hunting district in the Gulf of Livonia.

Fishermen: Seals damage nets

It is once again permitted to hunt gray seals for two reasons. Firstly, hunting allows for population control that helps prevent damage done to professional fishermen to some extent – seals catch fish from traps and nets, damaging them and causing losses. Coastal fishermen were paid €25,252 in compensation for broken fishing gear last year.

"In addition to preventing damage, traditions are upheld in historical seal hunting regions, such as the area surrounding the island of Kihnu in the Gulf of Livonia. At the same time, hunting must not damage the viability of the population and seal numbers need to remain strong," Margo Tannik said.

The Baltic Sea is also home to the striped seal and harbor seal. Unlike the gray seal, both species are endangered and off limits to hunters. Harbor seals only occasionally stray into Estonian waters from around southern Sweden and the Danish Straits.

The gray seal hunting season runs from April 15 to December 31. Only professional hunters with a license, valid hunting and large game permits are allowed to hunt seal.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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