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Fact sheet on Norwegian coastal seals

As from 2005, foreign nationals are permitted to take part in hunting for coastal seals in Norway. Thus, rules for seal hunting now correspond to the rules governing big-game hunting, as these are practiced in Norway and other Western countries. 

Foto: Havforskningsinstituttet

Ancient rock carvings illustrate several thousand years old traditions of seal hunting in Norway. During the millenniums, coastal seals served as valuable renewable resources for communities along the Norwegian coast. The utilization of the entire animal – meat, blubber and skin – is well documented. Seal hunting is difficult and, up to recently, seal hunting has been on the decline.

The traditional knowledge of how to hunt, prepare and utilise seals was on the verge of getting lost. However, in recent years there has been an increasing interest of using products from free ranging animals in modern, ecological cooking, and in small-scale fashion industry.

Harbour and grey seals are the only two species resident at the Norwegian coast. The harbour seal is a relatively stationary species that lives in breeding colonies along the entire outer coast and in some fjords. With the exception to a small breeding colony on the southwest coast, grey seals breed in several colonies at the outer coast from Central Norway to the Russian boarder. Outside the breeding season grey seals disperse over wider areas to feed. Some of the grey seals occurring at the Norwegian North Sea coast and the Barents Sea coast are vagrants from the very much larger populations in Britain and Russia, respectively.  At odd occasions, ringed seals and harp seals also migrate southwards along the Norwegian coast in search of food.

Seals and coastal fisheries
The Norwegian coastal waters are intensively used for fishing and fish farming, thus a likely arena for conflicts between seals and fishermen. When the abundant harp seals make mass migrations into coastal waters, these conflicts get very intensified. Thousands of seals might drown in gillnets resulting in significant financial losses for local fishermen during these rare events. The harbour and grey seals are present throughout the year, and they are a constant nuisance to the fishermen. Coastal seals are also the final host of cod-worm, a parasitic nematode that infects coastal cod and other demersal fishes. The nematodes are clearly visible in fish fillets and make the fish less marketable for human consumption. In some areas, this is a significant problem for local fishermen specialising on supplying the well-prised fresh-fish markets.

To mitigate the conflict between seals and fishermen, the Government of Norway seeks a controlled development of seal populations using conservation and sustainable harvest as management tools. In a white paper on Norway’s policy on marine mammals published in spring 2004 the Government stated its intention of regulating population growth in coastal seals to reduce damage to the fisheries and problems for local communities. The white paper also made it quite clear that Norway will maintain viable stocks of coastal seals on the basis of scientific advice. Norway sets annual quotas for coastal seals, and currently management plans for coastal seal stock populations are developed in Norway.

Important elements in the rich marine biodiversity of Norway
At the coast of Norway, seals occur in one of the world’s most scenic coastal landscapes. Seals are important elements in the rich marine biodiversity of Norway. This rich nature attracts thousands of eco-tourists every year. To ensure the viability of seal populations, the Government of 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 to Article 10 of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the seals are also subject to sustainable use. This combination of conservation and sustainable use is the core of Norway’s management policy on seals.

Foreign residents accompanied by a Norwegian citizen
Seal hunting at the picturesque coast of Norway is a great challenge and utmost adventure for the nature-loving hunter. As from 14th of January 2005, foreign nationals are permitted to take part in hunting for coastal seals in Norway. Thus, rules for seal hunting now correspond to the rules governing big-game hunting, as these are practiced in Norway and other Western countries. Permits will only be issued to foreign nationals who are accompanied by a Norwegian citizen, who is also in possession of a permit to hunt seals in the applicable zone. Foreign residents are exempt from the shooting proficiency test provided they satisfy the requirements for big-game hunting in their country of residence. Documentation of this or documentation of a passed shooting proficiency test must be attached to the application together with the name and address of a Norwegian contact person.


Zone Hunting season

Grey seal south for Stad 1 February – 30 September 
Grey seal north of Stad 1 January – 15 September 
Common seal along the entire coast 1 January – 30 April
Ringed seal and harp seal, the entire coast 2 January – 30 September
The closed season covers the whelping season.

For more information, please contact
The Directorate of Fisheries at +47 55 23 80 00.


Sist oppdatert: 22.05.2008