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The Ministry of the Environment created limited opportunities for grey seal hunting

Gray seal. Photo: Reigo Roasto
Gray seal. Photo: Reigo Roasto
Based on latest enumeration data, experts have said that the population of the grey seal in Estonian waters is sufficient to permit limited hunting. The Ministry of the Environment created the respective opportunity by approving the action plan for grey seal protection, the hunting rules and a monitoring regulation. The earliest possibility for hunting could be opened in the spring of 2015, after the review of the 2014 monitoring data.
The grey seal population has continuously increased in recent years, which is why the species was transferred from second to third protection category in 2010. Species of third protection category can be hunted under a special permit to limit the size of the population. The new Hunting Act, which entered into force in 2013, includes the grey seal in the list of wild big game. 
In order to map the situation of seals, experts have compiled an extensive action plan for the protection of the grey seal, based on the results of monitoring. The issues of grey seal hunting were discussed in the beginning of October in the hunting council of the Ministry of the Environment. “It is important to emphasise that grey seal hunting will be possible only to a limited extent and on the condition that their population remains large. Hunting should never endanger their population,” said Mati Raidma, Minister of the Environment. 
The action plan includes national monitoring of the grey seal as an important measure. “The action plan for the protection of the grey seal is based on the principle of managing protection and exploitation according to the state of the population. Any measures will be directly linked with the size and developments of the population. An important aspect when it comes to the hunting permit is the fact that grey seal hunting is permitted in Sweden, Finland and Aland Islands,” Raidma explained.
According to the latest enumeration, the population of the grey seal in the Baltic Sea amounts to at least 24,000 individuals, while the estimated population ten years ago, in 2001, was only slightly above 10,000 individuals. Over 4,000 of the animals live in Estonian waters. 
In order to establish a hunting quota, the Environmental Agency will issue annual recommendations, based on monitoring data, indicating the relevant areas and the number of individuals to be hunted. According to the action plan for the protection of the grey seal, the quota for the first hunting year should be one per cent of the population enumerated in the preceding year. This quota will be reviewed in subsequent years, based on monitoring data. A similar recommendations was issued by the Estonian Theriological Society. 
The hunting period should not coincide with the grey seal breeding season. Hunting is possible from 15 April to 31 December.
A hunter can only be permitted to hunt the grey seal if he holds a valid hunting certificate and has passed a shooting test. In addition, the hunter is required to submit various biological samples collected from hunted game. This helps researchers to estimate the age, sex and health of the seals.
The grey seal is the largest seal species in the Baltic Sea, with some adult individuals weighing over 200 kg and being over 2.5 m long. Estonian grey seals belong to the same population as the animals living in Sweden and Finland. Seal hunting was permitted in 1997 in Finland, 2000 in the Aland Islands and 2001 in Sweden. 


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