Hungry seals in the Stockholm archipelago. Photo: Lars Pehrson / SvD / TT
“It’s hard to bring in enough herrings to make our surströmming,” Ulf Lindgren, who runs the Grand Kallax saltery outside Luleå, told Swedish broadcaster SVT. “I don’t we’re going to to get in the number we need to produce what we want to.”
According to Sven-Gunnar Lunneryd, a seal researcher at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, there are now 25,000 seals in the Gulf of Bothnia, with the number growing by about 1,000 a year.
“We have an explosion of seals,” he told SVT. “It’s urgent that politicians wake up and take this seriously. We need to find solutions where we can manage or hunt seals in a responsible way, and try and find a balance between seals and humans.”
Surstömming is made by adding just enough salt to herring fillets to prevent them from rotting, and then fermenting them in barrels for upwards of six months, during which time the flesh develops an intense, almost fizzy flavour.
Japanese fermentation scholar Takeo Koizumi has found that surströmming has one of the most intense food smells in the world. Sweden’s surströmming aficionados are are passionate about its varied tones as lovers or fine wine or cheese.
Ruben Madsen, who runs the Ulvöprinsen herring saltery on Sweden’s High Coast, is expecting the season’s first herring catches to land either next week or the week after, meaning he can start fermenting the season’s first batches of his celebrated brand over the ensuing months.
He agrees that the surging seal numbers are a “gigantic problem,” even though herring stocks are healthier near him than they are further north.
“When the seals destroy so much and make it so difficult to earn a living, we are not only losing the fish, we are losing the next generation of fishermen,” he warned.
Madsen said Sweden needed to increase the number of seals that can be culled dramatically from the 500 a year allowed today.
“It’s so ridiculous. We should have up to 15,000 seals that we can shoot every year. It wouldn’t be a problem.”
“We have a woman who is a seal hunter south of Sundsvall, and she has seen that the seals are starving. They’ve eaten so much fish in the local area that there are none left for them.”
Sweden’s Environmental Protection Agency launched an investigation into the need to increase licensed seal hunting in Sweden to control the population, but despite the investigation finishing in 2013, no change has come.
According to SVT, the agency met with other government agencies in December to discuss the issue.