Ringed seals inhabit the waters of two NAMMCO member states, Greenland and Norway. Only the Arctic ringed seal is present in these areas.
Humans have hunted ringed seals in the Arctic since the arrival of people to the region and they remain a fundamental subsistence resource for many northern coastal communities today (e.g., ACIA 2005, Hovelsrud et al. 2008, Kovacs et al. 2008, Kelly et al. 2008). Subsistence and commercial harvests of Arctic ringed seals have been large in the past, but there is no evidence that they have contributed to large‐scale population declines. Commercial harvests in the Sea of Okhotsk and predator‐control harvests in the Baltic Sea, Lake Ladoga, and Lake Saimaa caused population declines in the past but have since been restricted (Kelly et al. 2010).
No international governing body regulates the harvest of ringed seals. Advice on sustainable hunting and management of ringed seals is given by the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission (NAMMCO).
In most areas there are relatively few restrictions on the hunting of ringed seals. In Canada, Greenland, Norway and Russia, a licence is required, but there are almost no restrictions on season or the number of animals that can be taken (Belikov and Boltunov 1998, Reeves et al. 1998, Teilmann and Kapel 1998). In Alaska, there are no limitations on the subsistence take of ringed seal. TACs or total allowable catches are not set for ringed seals in Canada, but any commercial harvests are regulated by licenses and permits and wastage is specifically prohibited. In Norway, at Svalbard, licensed hunters can shoot ringed seals from 20 May – 20 March. They are protected during their breeding season, as well as throughout the year in Svalbard national parks and nature reserves. Sport hunting of ringed seals is permitted on the Norwegian mainland. Individual hunters must have a licence, and quotas on how many may be taken are set.
The general lack of catch quotas means that there has been no requirement for hunters to register their catch. While records of commercial trade in sealskins exist for some areas, these likely represent a variable and sometimes small proportion of the number of seals that are actually taken. Hence historical catch records for ringed seals are in many cases poor and incomplete. This situation is changing, however. Greenland has been collecting complete harvest statistics for all species since 1992 under the Piniarneq system (Teilmann and Kapel 1998), and harvest studies are a part of some native land claims in Arctic Canada (Reeves et al. 1998).
Ringed seal skin drying in Greenland. Photo: F. Ugarte
There are no national restrictions in Greenland, but permits are used to control the harvest, and hunting of ringed seals is regulated in nature reserves and many municipalities (Goverment of Greenland 2012). Everyone engaged in hunting in Greenland must have a valid hunting license, either a full time license or a leisure license. Being a full time hunter requires that at least 50% of your income comes from hunting. Full time hunters can be licensed to hunt species like baleen whales and polar bears that leisure hunters are not allowed to hunt. Since 2009 only full time hunters qualify to sell sealskins to the tannery Great Greenland A/S (Government of Greenland 2012a). A hunter must submit a yearly catch report to the Ministry of Fisheries, Hunting and Agriculture. This makes it possible to monitor and evaluate the catch levels of the four different species of seals, both at local and national levels.
Successful hunt. Photo: F. Ugarte