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Photo: IMR.Photo: IMR

The management of Norwegian coastal seals (Phoca vitulina)

19.03.2013 // Harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) and grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) are the two seal species found on the Norwegian coast. Seals are important elements in the rich marine biodiversity of Norwegian waters.

At the same time seal populations are also subject an important part of Norway’s to sustainable useharvesting of marine living resources. This combination of conservation and sustainable use is the core of Norway’s management policy on seals.

Norwegian coastal seals

The harbour seal is a relatively stationary species that lives in breeding colonies along the entire coast and in some fjords. With the exception of a small breeding colony on the Southwest coast, grey seals breed in several colonies from central Norway to the Russian border. Outside the breeding season grey seals disperse over wider areas in order to find food. On occasion, ringed seals and harp seals also migrate southwards along the Norwegian coast in search of food. 

Important elements in the rich marine biodiversity of Norway 

Seals are important elements of the rich marine biodiversity of Norwegian waters. To ensure the viability of seal populations, Norway has established several Marine Protected Areas, where the objective includes protection of seal habitats and prevention of disturbance during the breeding season. However, in accordance with Article 10 of the Convention on Biological Diversity, seal populations are also subject to sustainable use. This combination of conservation and sustainable use is the core of Norway’s management policy on seals. 

Seals and coastal fisheries 

The Norwegian coastal waters are used for fishing and fish farming, which is an important industry in coastal Norway. At times, coastal seal populations are in conflict with fishing interests. Coastal seals are the final host of cod-worm, a parasitic nematode that infects coastal cod and other demersal fish. In some areas, this is a problem for local fishermen. When the abundant harp seals mass migrate into coastal waters, these rare events result in significant financial losses for local fishermen. 

To mitigate the conflict between seals and fishermen, Norwegian authorities seek a controlled development of seal populations using both conservation and sustainable harvesting as management tools. In a 2009 White Paper on Norway’s policy on marine mammals the Government stated its intention of regulating population growth to reduce damage to the fisheries and problems for local communities, while maintaining viable stocks on the basis of scientific advice. Norway sets annual quotas for coastal seals, and management plans for coastal seal populations have been implemented. 


Ancient rock carvings are a testimony of the tradition of seal hunting in Norway, which is several thousand years old. Coastal seals served as valuable resource for communities along the Norwegian coast and the use of the entire animal – meat, blubber and skin – is well-documented. 

Today, rules for seal hunting correspond to the rules governing big-game hunting, as they are practiced in Norway and other countries.



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