The ringed seal harvest in Svalbard is very small, with less than 100 animals taken annually, from a population that likely numbers in the 10s of thousands locally, and is hence unlikely to impact population abundance or trends.
The data from the 2012-2017 hunts suggest that ringed seals in Svalbard are growing normally and have good body condition (and hence are finding enough food). However, the data also suggest that the production or survival of young animals might be low, with juvenile age classes not being represented as fully as would be expected in the hunt. Additionally, pregnancy rates appear to be lower than the norm for this species.
Low pup production/survival and pregnancy rates are not unexpected, given that there has been 11 years (since 2006) with markedly reduced ice cover in west coast fjords. Even when the sea ice has formed such that ice extent is quite large in some years in this period, the ice has started to form later than normal and hence has insufficient snow depth for optimal ringed seal breeding conditions.
Sampling of the local harvest in Svalbard should be continued to gain further insight into possible changes in age structure, condition and life-history parameters during this time of marked environmental change. This analysis should also be supplemented by additional monitoring activities to study potential dietary shifts and regional patterns of change within different fjords in Svalbard. There is a marked contrast in the rate of environmental change in west coast vs east coast fjords, which could provide considerable insight into ringed seals responses to climate change and the overall status of this species in our region.