Anders Galatius

The history and effects of seal-fishery conflicts in Denmark

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  • Morten Tange Olsen, Evolutionary Genomics Section, University of Copenhagen
  • ,
  • Anders Galatius
  • Tero Härkönen, Naturhistoriska Riksmuseet

Growing marine mammal populations have led to renewed conflicts with fisheries and discussions of culling as a management measure. In order to evaluate the effects of such measures, lessons from previous culling efforts and historic data on marine mammal abundance and distribution in response to different hunting and management regimes are pertinent. Here, we combined multiple data sources, including bounty data from the Danish seal culling programme of 1889 to 1927, zooarchaeological records, historical written accounts, 20th century hunting statistics on seals and recent population survey data, in order to assess the prehistoric and historic occurrence of seals in Denmark, and to evaluate the effects of hunting and culling on seal populations, as well as its efficacy as a mitigation measure in seal-fisheries conflicts. We found that past conflicts were driven primarily by developments of passive fishing gear technology in the late 19th century, and that—contrary to several modern interpretations—the primary motivation for culling was damage to catch and gear, not resource competition. Furthermore, we demonstrate that it took decades of heavy-handed culling to minimize the historic seal-fisheries conflicts. Moreover, the culling programme should be regarded in a broader context, where preceding hunting had already decimated grey seal stocks, and subsequent hunting led to an all-time low of a few thousand harbour seals in the early 1970s. We recommend that 21st century seal-fisheries conflicts, debates and associated management decisions should be seen in a historical context, and that there should be an aim towards the development of sustainable fisheries and ecotourism, rather than culling.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
Pages (from-to)233-243
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 14 May 2018

    Research areas

  • Culling, Hunting, Management, Pinnipeds

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