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'I've grown fat, got a tan & now look like a Siberian'
Vladimir Lenin, 1897, in Siberian exile

Siberian seals could be used for food delicacy amid population crisis

By Derek Lambie & Anna Liesowska
28 November 2014

Scientists say numbers in Lake Baikal reaching critical levels and say new commercial businesses could safeguard their future.

Officials have reported that the number of seals in Lake Baikal has now reached critical levels of 100,000, more than twice the optimal number. Picture: Vera Salnitskaya

An overpopulation of seals could force authorities in Siberia to begin commercially culling them for food for the first time.

Officials have reported that the number of the animals in Lake Baikal has now reached critical levels of 100,000, more than twice the optimal number.

And with fears their spiralling population could begin to have a detrimental effect on their health and survival, a plan has been put forward to use them for a meat delicacy.

There is currently a quota in place in Baikal – which is the oldest and deepest freshwater lake in the world – to allow researchers to cull about 1,550 seals a year.

But the All-Russian Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography says that killing up to 5,000 seals a year and developing their meat for food would be 'useful', both for the natural state of the seals, but also commercially.

Institute has already begun to develop food standards of meat seal - namely semi-finished products, spreads, canned and smoked products.

Alexei Telpukhovsky, the deputy head of the Angara-Baikal Territorial Office of the Federal Agency for Fisheries, said it could take three years to develop a coherent strategy.

Figures produced by the Sibohotnauka Educational-Medical Centre of the Irkutsk State Agricultural Academy show a commercial seal industry could bring in seven million roubles (£144,000) a year to the economy.

Baikal seal enjoys the sun


Baikal seals playing


Baikal seals

The Baikal seal is one of the smallest in the world and is the only exclusively freshwater species. Pictures: Vera Salnitskaya, 'Zapovednoe Podlemorye'

Senior fellow Boris Ditsevich even said there was scope to take 50,000 seals out of the lake, and even said the hunts would attract tourists to the region. He said: 'Every year a Baikal seal has one or two cubs and lives to about 10 years, so the sealsare reproducing quickly.

'The Seal can be used fully. For example, the meat of a one year old seal is quite edible, the fur can be used to make hats, and the fat can be used in medicine and cosmetology.

'And the hunt itself, a tradition for the local population would be interesting for tourists. Hunting for seals with a sled on the frozen lake was very common in the 19th and 20th centuries.' 

Baikal is a vast rift lake in the south of Siberia, sandwiched between the Irkutsk region and the Buryat Republic. Thought to be the oldest and deepest in the world, at 5,387ft deep, it contains roughly 20 per cent of the planet’s fresh water.

It is said to be home to 1,700 species of plants and animals, two-thirds of which cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

The Baikal seal is one of the smallest in the world and is the only exclusively freshwater species. No one is entirely sure how they came to be in the stretch of water, far from any sea, although researchers believe they travelled via a sea-passage that once linked the lake to the Arctic Ocean.

According to estimates from the Baikal branch of the State Fishing Centre, there are as many as 120,000 seals, with the population growing by 25,000 every year. Even environmentalists agree that a cull, of up to 6,000 annually, will not impact the population.

Baikal seals in water


Sunbathing in the middle of Lake Baikal

According to estimates from the Baikal branch of the State Fishing Centre, there are as many as 120,000 seals, with the population growing by 25,000 every year. Pictures: 'Zapovednoe Podlemorye'

Gennady Jankus, director of the Frolihinksy Reserve – which was created to preserve the number of wild animals in part of Baikal – said: 'Seal numbers are very high and the absence of any anthropogenic pressure is not to their advantage.

'The emotional approach [to a cull] with people saying 'oh such a pity, seals are so nice' will end badly for the seal itself. When the population density exceeds permissible levels, they will start to get sick and die.'

The Federal Agency for Fisheries insists there are no immediate plans to open up widespread industrial hunting of seals.

But a spokesperson said: 'Scientists note that the number of seals now already exceeds the optimum, and in order to avoid mass deaths of animals from disease, it is necessary to regulate the population by increasing volumes of fishing.

'But for such a decision to be proposed it has to be reasoned thorough scientific justification. And if the decision is made, then the production of seals will go under strict state control, according to the rules of fishing.

'Nobody says the population will be damaged.'

Despite the reassurances, however, the plan is not supported by many on the shores of the lake with critics accusing the scientists of cruelty.

Comments (1)

Something seriously amiss...Baikal seal is renowned in the natural world, a unique species steeped in legend, why would this incredible creature be downgraded to food fodder, what has gone wrong? If the species is over populated then ask why... detect the environmental and spiritual reasons and solve, don't just kill such a beautifully evolved creature!
Layla, Co Mayo
19/02/2015 05:16
7
0
1

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