European Commission prepared to bring Finland to court over protection of Saimaa seals
Finland faces loss of reputation and millions in fines
The Saimaa ringed seal
The European Commission is ready to take Finland to court if it does not improve its efforts to upgrade conservation measures for the endangered Saimaa ringed seal (Pusa hispida saimensis).
"The measure is to be taken if other attempts at persuasion do not work”, said a spokesperson for the Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik on Wednesday.
The Commission officially criticised Finland on Wednesday for not protecting the Saimaa ringed seals as efficiently as they should.
Finland now has two months to respond to the criticism and to propose improvements. If the response is not satisfactory, the Commission can give a final warning before initiating the court process.
“We cannot allow rare species to disappear. EU laws protect them”, the spokesman said.
Saimaa ringed seals and seal pups die from drowning in nets used by amateur fishermen.
The Commission says that fishing is especially a problem during the nesting period of the young seals.
Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Sirkka-Liisa Anttila (Centre) has hitherto favoured only voluntary limitations on fishing. The Commission feels that the system is not stringent enough.
Protection of the highly endangered Saimaa ringed seal has been prioritised in the EU’s Nature Directive.
The directive outlines the establishment of special protected areas and tough conservation measures.
According to Potocnik’s spokesperson, the Commission is not opposed to fishing, but it does feel that the protection of the seals requires better action than before.
The Saimaa seal question was brought to the Commission on the basis of a written question by MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen (Nat. Coalition Party) a year ago.
“Responsibility is now with the Finnish government”, Pietikäinen said.
Pietikäinen wants the government to enact a ban on net fishing in the spring, and to provide those affected with compensation for economic losses.
“It’s about Finland’s reputation”, Pietikäinen said.
In addition to a blemish on the country’s reputation, a court case could bring a hefty fine.
The Saimaa ringed seal is a critically endangered species, with a total population of only fewer than 300 individuals.
The animal is in a sense a relic of past times, trapped by rising land after the last Ice Age, and is one of the few freshwater seals in the world.
On a more positive note, it was reported on Thursday that this winter and spring the nesting of the Saimaa ringed seal has gone better than for many years, in part owing to the rather more rigorous and snowy nature of the winter we have just experienced.
Indications were found that a total of 57 seal pups were born this spring. Three had died in the nest.
The last time such a large number of seal pups were recorded was in 2004, when there were 66 live births.
The number this year compares very favourably with the dismal figure of 44 last year, and it is narrowly above the average for the past decade of around 54 births each year.
The Saimaa ringed seal produces pups towards the end of the winter in a nest made of snow, dug into the shorline by the mother animal. Recent mild winters have led to problems with collapsing nests and a shortage of snow. An earlier article linked below points up efforts made by volunteers to help the animals in this respect.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Saimaa ringed seal extinction likely without massive conservation measures (17.2.2009)
Scattered restrictions on net fishing harm Saimaa ringed seal population (12.8.2008)
Water area owners sign 109 agreements to protect Saimaa ringed seal (27.8.2009)
Photographer Juha Taskinen continues to fight for ringed seals "as long as his flippers can wave" (14.4.2009)
Researchers pile snow for use as nests by endangered Saimaa ringed seals (8.1.2010)
Saimaa Ringed Seal (Wikipedia)