Although Caspian Seals are an endangered species, they are still legally and illegally hunted for their fur and oil, causing further decline in the already dwindling numbers of these rare and beautiful creatures.
Whilst Kazakhstan has ended hunting quotas in recent years, in Russia seals are still hunted on an industrial scale. In 2017, the Russian hunting quota was 6,000. In the same year, the fishing allowance for the whole Caspian Sea was 12,000.
Many of the seals that are illegally hunted are pups – prized for their soft fur. Seal skins are used for hats and other clothing and an individual high-quality seal skin can sell for up to US$100 at the point of origin. Seal blubber is also used as a medicinal tonic, fishing bait, and cattle feed, and seal oil can sell for US$14 per litre (according to the IUCN).
It is estimated that fishing nets are responsible for between 5% and 19% of all seal deaths each year. In 2013, BP, the oil giant, identified fishing nets as the most critical threat to the future of the seals in the Caspian.
Fishing nets are used to catch sturgeon, but seals can get tangled and whilst trying to escape are often strangled.
Solutions to prevent mammals getting caught in fishing nets have proved effective elsewhere in the world, such as using a circle hook and auditory deterrents to keep mammals away from areas that are being fished. In the future, the Center will be exploring options to improve fishing practices in the Caspian.