Press release 28th of June 2019


The Baltic Sea Seal & Cormorant TNC project was heard at the HELCOM Workshop of Seal and Fisheries Interaction in Copenhagen on June 27, 2019

At the workshop the Baltic Sea Seal and Cormorant TNC project presented a list of researchers’ recommendations for the main solutions and mitigation methods to decrease seal-fishery conflict in the Baltic Sea region and the preliminary results of the large interview study focusing on Baltic seal and cormorant impacts on small-scale fisheries.


The Baltic Sea grey seal population has grown unrestrictedly to about 50 000 individuals. It now poses a serious threat to coastal commercial fishing and thus to the self-sufficiency in food production. In addition to the direct impact on fisheries (catch losses and damaged gear), the current seals’ consumption of fish affects the fish populations. 


“The grey seals alone eat about 100 million kilos of fish every year, which is about twice the amount that the coastal fisheries take. Damage mitigation measures such as seal-safe gears and scaring devices have been developed and taken in use by the fishers, but these measures have not solved the problem”, says Esko Taanila, Project Manager Esko Taanila, administrator of the Baltic Sea Seal & Cormorant Project.


According to the researchers’ recommendations list, there is an urgent need to start managing seal populations by hunting to reduce the population increase in order to secure the ecosystem in the Baltic Sea and our use of the Baltic Sea as an important source of food. A more intensive hunt is limited by the EU ban on the trade of seal products, preventing the use of seals as a positive resource and making use of seal products. A joint demand from the Baltic states to the EU commission to reduce the restrictions is necessary. 

Aiming for viable and sustainable fisheries in the Baltic Sea

The 2006 HELCOM seal recommendations goal for Baltic seal populations is a population size that increases until it reaches a carrying capacity and starts to limit itself. However, this recommendation does not account for the Habitats Directive’s objective to promote the maintenance of biodiversity while also accounting for economic, social, cultural, and regional requirements. The Project and the researchers suggest that these aspects proposed by the Habitats Directive should also be taken into account in the HELCOM seal recommendation. The need to amend the HELCOM seal recommendation was also acknowledged in the workshop’s final discussions.

“It’s vitally important to secure the future of small-scale coastal commercial fisheries and maintain the self-sufficiency of the Baltic Sea”, says Project Manager Esko Taanila.

The final report of the Baltic fishermen interview study will be carried out in late autumn 2019. The report will provide information about seal- and cormorant-caused damages, such as economic losses, experienced by the Baltic Sea commercial fishermen. 


Further information:


Maria Saarinen



Lars Wellin



Thorsten Wichman



Erko Veltson


The Baltic Sea Seal and Cormorant TNC project will attend the BALTFISH symposium

The BALTFISH presidency will hold a symposium on seal – fish/fisheries interaction in the Baltic Sea. The seminar will take place on March 19 – 20 in Gothenburg, Sweden. The head of the Baltic Sea Seal and Cormorant TNC project Mr Esko Taanila will attend the symposium to present preliminary results of the research on the damage to small-scale coastal fisheries in the Baltic Sea caused by seals and cormorants.


Current information on Baltic Sea Seal and Cormorant project 

The situation now

The Baltic Sea Seal and Cormorant TNC project proceeds as planned. So far two major parts of the project have taken place.

Firstly, an investigation has been made of 50 national research reports concerning seal and cormorant damages, concentrating on the measurement of the economic loss for the fishermen.

Secondly, the first 230 interviews have been collected from Finland (5 FLAGs), Sweden (7 FLAGs), Germany (1 FLAG) and Estonia (1 FLAG). The questionnaire was quite comprehensive, and the fishermen gave their estimation on the economic loss, change of workload, loss of catch etc. caused by seals and cormorants.  All the gathered information will be investigated by academics on a scientific level. We expect to get the first results early next spring.

About the preliminary results can be said, that the situation is very serious and that there is a big variation in different areas. It seems that e. g. in Finland the income of the fishermen has dropped to an average of two thirds during the last 15 years. At the same time, one has had to invest a lot more on the equipment, and the workload has grown significantly – except for those who cannot put their gear in the sea in the autumn months because of the seals.

The project has been presented in a couple of occasions recently:  for Baltic Sea Advisory Council and in DG Mare -meetings.

Three Finnish MEP:s, some MP:s and authorities visited Kotka, Finland, in the beginning of November. Esko Taanila, the manager of South Finland FLAG ESKO, got them interested in how to find new sustainable ways to save traditional small-scale fishery, and at the same time take care of the balance of the ecosystem.

Esko Taanila from FLAG ESKO presenting the project to an interested audience at Östersjöfiske 2020 at Simrishamn
Esko Taanila from FLAG ESKO presenting the project to an interested audience at Östersjöfiske 2020 at Simrishamn. Photo: Anu Juva.

Last week, FLAG ESKO also introduced the project to the audience of the seminar Östersjöfisket 2020 (”The Baltic fishery in 2020”) at Simrishamn, Sweden, and got very good feedback.


We got excellent news last week: fishermen from Poland and Denmark will join the project and answer the questionnaire. Those results will add considerably to the value of the project.

We are working on a communication plan for next year. We shall introduce the results of this project to different actors, and also inform about the possibilities and the meaning of benefiting from our wonderful resource: sustainably caught local fish.


The Baltic Sea S&C TNC project was introduced at the BSAC Executive Committee meeting on 8th of May 2018 in Denmark

Link to the presentation: Baltic Sea seal and cormorant TNC project


New research project launched: Impacts of seals and cormorants on the small-scale coastal fishery in Baltic Sea Region

Baltic Sea Seal and Cormorant TNC project and the Natural resources Institute Finland have launched a study to research impacts of growing populations of seal and cormorant on livelihoods of coastal small-scale fisheries in the Baltic Sea Region.

The future of this fishery segment is very uncertain in most countries around the Baltic Sea. The major problem is declining profitability, caused by a number of factors such as rising costs, declining catches, competition from imported fish, and more recently also by a threat from fish-eating species such as seals and cormorants.

The total number of grey seals in the Baltic Sea is increasing yearly with 7-8% since 2000 when coordinated counting between the Baltic Sea states was introduced Grey seal population has increased dramatically in recent decades. Studies show that the population has increased eight times higher since the 1980s, and the number of grey seals in the Baltic Sea is officially estimated to be 28.000. However, according to other estimates, this number can be as high as 54.000. In addition, there are about 25.000 Ringed seals in the Bothnic Bay.

The cormorant has also recently become a major problem for commercial fisheries. Previously, a small number of cormorants from the Atlantic Ocean visited the Baltic Sea during winter, but in the past decades the cormorant has expanded from Central Europe to the Baltic Sea and has grown from single colonies to an estimated 160.000 pairs in 2001.

Newly emerging concerns such as the ecosystem impact of seals and cormorants, as well as unforeseen consequences such as spreading of parasites, until now largely absent from the discussion, should also be taken into account.

Moreover, research data show that both species also affect the fish population in other ways, as their presence scares away fish stems from their natural breeding and growth areas. In order to ensure sustainable development of the Baltic Sea and its coastal communities, it is important that the impact of seals and cormorants on the fish stocks and on the livelihood of the small-scale fisheries will be estimated.


Professional fishermen in the Baltic Sea area cooperate to secure the future of their trade

Consumers wish to have fresh fish caught in the nearby waters, but the fish catches and the number of professional fishermen are declining continuously in the Baltic Sea area. The reduction in the catches is largely due to the rapidly growing seal and great cormorant populations. Fourteen fisheries local action groups (FLAG) in the coastal regions in Sweden, Finland, Estonia, and Germany have launched a joint project aiming at finding new means for the coexistence of fishermen and wildlife affecting fishing.  

The first joint meeting was held in Helsinki 1st of November 2017 and The Steering group and the expert group for the project were formed.

The presentations of the joint meeting:

Meeting in Helsinki 01112017

2017 1.11. Baltic Sea Seal and Cormorant_meeting Helsinki_EL Luke

Seals and cormorants TNC project plan