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After decades, Estonians could regain seal hunting rights

The island of Kihnu is located off Estonia's west coast. Its more than 500 permanent residents appealed to the ministry three years ago, asking to restore their ancient right to hunt grey seals and make traditional meals from them.
by Staff Writers
Tallinn (AFP) Aug 26, 2010
Islanders from Kihnu, a small Estonian island in the Baltic Sea, could soon regain seal hunting rights after a 30-year break due to a soaring seal population over the last decade, an Estonian official said Thursday.

"The Ministry of Environment has now prepared a draft bill that will move gray seals from category II protection to category III, so it will become possible to end the three-decade-long ban on seal hunting," Hanno Zingel, adviser to the Estonian environment ministry, told AFP.

According to Zingel, the population of grey seals in Estonian waters has risen from 1,500 to 4,000 over the last decade.

"The number of grey seals has increased rapidly partly due to the better environment conditions of the Baltic Sea, but the 4,000 grey seals in Estonian waters is far behind the number of over 10,000 seals we had 100 years ago. Our neighbouring countries Finland and Sweden allow seal hunting," Zingel said.

The island of Kihnu is located off Estonia's west coast. Its more than 500 permanent residents appealed to the ministry three years ago, asking to restore their ancient right to hunt grey seals and make traditional meals from them.

Kihnu residents want the right to hunt a total 30 grey seals annually and have reminded the ministry that seal hunting and making seal dishes is a centuries' old tradition.

"The open question is whether to give the seal hunting right only to Kihnu islanders or also to nearby islanders. Because the seals in the Baltic Sea form a united community and they can even swim from Estonia across the sea to Finland, seal protection ... has to be coordinated jointly," Zingel said.

"The maximum amount of seals Kihnu islanders could hunt will be one percent of seals counted in the previous year," he added.

The ministry is still also mulling the issue of which Kihnu islanders who will be entitled to the hunting rights -- those who are the descendants of islanders or also those who have simply bought homes there.

Though there are thousands of seals, with some weighing more than 300 kilograms (660 pounds), they are rarely seen near Estonia's popular sandy beaches.

"You might have never seen a seal but if you have been out on the Baltic Sea they probably have seen you," Zingel said.

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