The Finnish coastal fisheries action groups’ letter to Virginijus Sinkevičius, the Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries

In their reply to the Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius The Finnish coastal fisheries action groups emphasize the important role of the coastal small-scale fisheries in the Baltic Sea region. The Finnish coastal groups ask EU Parliament’s and Commissioner’s contribution in abolishing the trade ban on seal products in the European Union.



Open letter to Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius

The European Commission Must Act to Secure the Future of Small-Scale Coastal Fisheries in the Baltic Sea

Pressemitteilung 18.11.2019

Wachstum der Robben- und Kormoranbestände bedroht Lebensunterhalt der Ostseefischer

Pressiteade 12.11.2019

Hüljeste ja kormoranide kasvavad populatsioonid põjustavad tõsist ohtu kalamajanduse jätkumisele Läänemere regioonis, kinnitab uus uuring

Lehdistötiedote 12.11.2019

Hylje- ja merimetsokantojen kasvu on uhka kalastuselinkeinon olemassaololle, vahvistaa uusi selvitys

Pressmeddelande 12.11.2019

Växande säl- och skarvpopulationer är ett allvarligt hot mot yrkesfisket i Östersjöregionen, bekräftar en ny internationell studie

A Broad cooperation of Baltic Sea small-scale coastal fisheries and fisheries groups addresses an open letter to Fisheries Ministers of EU Member States in the Baltic Sea region

Open letter to the Fisheries Ministers of EU Member States in the Baltic Sea region

Decision Makers Must Act Now to Secure the Future of Small-Scale Coastal Fisheries in the Baltic Sea

We, the undersigned Baltic Sea fishermen and Fisheries Local Action Groups (FLAGs), want to express our deepest concern for the future of traditional coastal small-scale fishing in our region. Fishing as a traditional source of livelihood has always played a vital role in the socio-economic and cultural development of the coastal communities of the Baltic Sea area. We represent the transnational cooperation of 14 Fisheries Local Action Groups (FLAGs) operating in the coastal areas of Sweden, Finland, Estonia, and Germany to secure the future of traditional small-scale fishing in the Baltic Sea Region.

The long-lasting species-centred protection policy and consequences of the seal trade ban have led to a situation where very numerous seal and cormorant populations are one of the most severe threats to the traditional coastal fishing livelihood. In the Baltic coastal areas the amount of fish preyed on by seals and cormorants is about the same as caught by fishing. Recent studies have confirmed that seals eat fish of the same size as those taken by the fishery (Lundström et al. 2012). The impact of seals and cormorants on fish stocks is serious.

As appreciation for fish has increased due to health and climate awareness, prices have also increased. At the same time, the local catches have diminished. It has caused a situation where, instead of being able to use the local catch of the Baltic Sea, more fish is imported.

The great cormorant is protected under Directive 79/409/EEC (the Birds Directive). The population of the great cormorant has increased significantly over the last 20 years and is now considered to be in a healthy state. Growing cormorant numbers cause severe damage to coastal small-scale fisheries: reducing catch size, damaging stock and scaring fish away from fishing gear. In its Resolution of 4 December 2008, the European Parliament has called for the adoption of a European Cormorant Management Plan to minimize the heavy impact of cormorants on fish stocks and fishing (2008/2177(INI))[1].  Besides the seaside, there is an increasing amount of confirmed cases where cormorants visit rivers and destroy the whole fish population of a river. Besides the damage to fish stocks, cormorants have caused proven permanent damage to vegetation in certain areas and are a particular threat to juvenile fish.

The discussion around the Regulation (EC) No 1007/2009 on trade ban in seal products has set the public opinion against all seal hunting. Grey seals are protected by all countries in the Baltic Sea region. In 2017, when the grey seal population was last monitored in the Baltic Sea area, over 30 000 individuals were counted. This means that the estimated population size was 37,500 – 50,000 individuals (Ahola, Galatius & Jüssi 2019). Some experts estimate that the population size is now close to the carrying capacity of the environment. After recovery of the populations, controlled hunting is allowed in certain Baltic Sea states. The current national hunting regulations allow hunting of seals to some extent, but the seal product trade ban makes it worthless and contrary to hunters’ ethical values. Thus, the permitted quotas are never reached.

The HELCOM targets for grey seal populations, based on LRL (Limit Reference Level, i.e. safe biological limit) in the Baltic, are set at 10,000 individuals in all units. The abundance of grey seals is above the LRL of 10,000. Good status is achieved for each species when i) the abundance of seals in each management unit has attained a Limit Reference Level (LRL) of at least 10,000 individuals to ensure long-term viability, and ii) the species-specific growth rate is achieved indicating that abundance is not affected by severe anthropogenic pressures. The population has met the conservation targets all over the Baltic.

We, the undersigned Baltic Sea fishermen and Fisheries Local Action Groups, call on You, in light of the EU Common Fisheries Policy’s objective to contribute to a fair living standard for those who depend on fishing activities[2], to promptly undertake all measures necessary to solve the clear conflict between increasing grey seal and great cormorant populations on the one hand, and small-scale coastal fisheries on the other.

We need Your support on this fundamental matter if the future of small-scale coastal fisheries in the Baltic Sea is to be secured.


[2] Cf. Article 2 paragraph 5 letter f) of the CFP Basic Regulation 1380/2013

We remain at your disposal for any questions you may have.

Kind regards,

Lars Wellin                                                     
SydostLeader, Sweden                                     
Anders Jansson                                               
LAG Leader Stockholmsbygd, Sweden          
Thorsten Wichman                                           
FLAG WMO, Germany                                   
Sten-Olov Altin                                               
Leader Mittland Plus, Sweden                       
Erko Veltson
Fisheries Information Centre and Harju Kalandus, Estonia.

Maria Saarinen
 FLAG Archipelago Sea, Finland
Esa Lehtonen
Natural Resources Institute Finland
Iiro Majuri
Coastal Bothnian Bay FLAG, Finland
Kirsi Pohjankoski
 Leader Sepra, Finland
Esko Taanila                                                 
South Finland FLAG ESKO, Finland             


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

28th November 2018

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.

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.


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 fish population in other ways, as their presence scares away fish stems from their natural breeding and growth areas. In order to ensure a 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.


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