Conservation Action Plan
The Caspian seal is now classified as endangered on the IUCN red list of species threatened with extinction. This means that there is a very high risk the species will become extinct unless conservation measures are implemented urgently. The full IUCN assessment can be read here.
The Caspian seal project team have worked with scientists from each Caspian country and the Caspian Environment Programme to produce a Seal Conservation Action and Management Plan (SCAMP), which gives the detailled activities required to halt the decline of the population and begin its recovery. The action plan was formally accepted as the Caspian Seal Conservation Action Plan (CSCAP) by the governments of the region through the Caspian Environment Programme in 2007. The immediate priorities are to reduce mortality from human sources such as hunting and fishing by-catch, and to establish protected areas covering critical habitat areas. A presentation giving an overview of the action plan and the text of the final plan can be downloaded below (English and Russian versions). Although the plan itself is well developed, the most important recommendations are still to be implemented by the countries of the region.
A new CEP project, known as 'Caspeco' began in 2009, funded by the Global Environment Fund (GEF). This project was to adopt an 'ecosystem-based approach' to conservation, and was to include a network of special protected areas throughout the Caspian. One component of this plan was the development of Special Seal Protected Areas (SSPAs). SSPA development would be entirely compatible with an ecosystem-based approach, since protected areas for seals would need to be areas in which fishing is either prohibited or strictly regulated, and human disturbance minimised.
The SSPA concept was presented to an international meeting of the CEP steering group in 2009, and an updated progress report on seal conservation presented to this group in 2010 (see downloads below). It was decided that Kazakhstan would take the lead in establishing the first pilot SSPAs and that other littoral countries would then follow that example to develop a coherent network intended to protect key haul-out, foraging and migration corridors for seals throughout the Caspian.
In September 2009 Agip KCO hosted an international workshop in Atyrau to discuss key issues of Caspian seal conservation. A wide range of threats and possible solutions were presented and discussed and experience of solving seal conservation issues in other parts of the world was also presented (workshop report attached below). A resolution reached by the workshop participants divided existing threats into three priority categories - Crucial threats (hunting, by-catch, poaching), Serious threats (prey availability, habitat disturbance/destruction) and Moderate threats (Pollution of food-chain by POPs, disease and ice reduction due to climate change). The participants called for immediate implementation of the CSCAP. The minutes of this workshop can be downloaded from the link below. A second meeting of this group was recommended in which a progress report would be made. A meeting is currently planned to be held in Moscow in February 2015.
In December 2010 the 4th Convention of the Terhran Parties (COP4) was held in Moscow, and the Biodiversity Protocol to the Convention presented. Ratification of this Protocol will be a crucial step in ensuring region-wide implementation of Caspian seal conservation measures.
In May 2011 the University of Leeds CISS (Caspian International Seal Survey) team were able to make available the final report on the Caspeco project's Seal Special Protected Area (SSPA) network recommendations and management plan (document may be downloaded from link below). This paper discusses why protected areas are needed for Caspian seals, how priority areas for special protection may be selected and how they may effectively be set up and managed. Reports from representatives of all the Caspian littoral states were reviewed. It was agreed by all parties that the pilot SSPAs should be trialled in Kazakhstan. Based on information from CISS surveys and satellite tracking data, two sites along the Kazakh coast and migration corridor linking them were recommended for pilot SSPAs. The priority aim would be to reduce the by-catch of seals, which occurs mainly (though not exclusively) in large-mesh nets set for sturgeon, most of which are illegally set.
A final Caspeco seals meeting was held in Astana, Kazakhstan in March 2012, with the aim of setting a timetable for the establishment of the recommended pilot SSPAs in Kazakhstan. A final report on the SSPA Management Plan was produced in May 2012 (paper may be downloaded from the link below). This paper also set out a proposed structure for national seal centres to be established in each Caspian littoral state under the auspices of a Regional Seal Secretariat to implement the Conservation Action Plan. The Kazakhstan Seal Centre would be primarily responsible for establishing the pilot SSPAs according to an agreed timetable beginning in 2012 with completion aimed for 2016.
Unfortunately the pilot SSPA plen has not so far proceeded further. At the Tehran Convention COP IV in Moscow in March 2012 the Kazakh representative considered that 'more research' needed to be done before any SSPA should be established. Without Government support, the programme has therefore stalled.
The Biodiversity protocol to the Convention was finally agreed at COP V in Ashgabat in May 2014. Details of the Protocol and further progress may be followed at the Tehran Convention website.
Thus far, therefore, there have been many documents produced with good intentions to protect seals from their many threats, but little actual protection. There has apparently been a recent decline in sturgeon poaching, at least in the north Caspian. This may be having an effect in reducing the number of seals drowning in nets, but this is not yet known. Other threats - including industrial traffic and infrastructure, habitat degradation due to human activities and - in the Russian sector - hunting on the ice and and deliberate killing – so far continue on both opportunistic and legal bases.