Photo/IllutrationA harbor seal caught near Cape Erimomisaki arrives in the Noboribetsu Marine Park Nixe in Noboribetsu, Hokkaido, on June 29. (Osamu Mikami)

  • Photo/Illustraion

NOBORIBETSU, Hokkaido--The Environment Ministry captured a harbor seal and sent it to an aquarium for the first time in a project aimed at reducing a nuisance to fishermen on Japan’s northernmost main island.

The female harbor seal was caught off Cape Erimomisaki in southern Hokkaido and handed over to the Noboribetsu Marine Park Nixe on June 29.

The ministry started capturing harbor seals this year after fishermen complained that the mammals were stealing salmon from their fixed nets around Cape Erimomisaki.

Harbor seals are classified as “near threatened” on the Japanese Red List. In Japan, harbor seals only inhabit the Pacific Ocean around Cape Erimomisaki and coastal areas in eastern Hokkaido.

To strike a balance between the seals and the fishermen, the ministry formulated a plan to reduce the harbor seal population around Cape Erimomisaki, estimated at 1,000, by 20 percent over three years. The ministry wants some of the seals to find new homes in aquariums around Japan.

“I hope it will be a good opportunity for people to (see those harvested seals at aquariums and) think about the issue of wild animals,” said Yosuke Kuramoto, Erimo nature conservation officer of the Environment Ministry.

The ministry captured 11 seals, including six pups born in spring, in fixed fishing nets for salmon and trout from May 19 to May 28.

One of the six was sent to the Noboribetsu aquarium.

Four pups are being hand-fed frozen Alaska pollack and sand eel at an aquarium in Otaru, while one is being raised at a zoo in Obihiro, both in Hokkaido.

The Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums is trying to find new homes for the pups.

(This article was written by Masatoshi Narayama and Hiroshi Fukasawa.)