Institutional and paradigmatic changes in Finnish fisheries and environmental governance in the light of the protection of the Saimaa ringed seal, Phoca hispida saimensis Nordq., are discussed. The analysis is based on written statements by stakeholder institutions in response to a proposal by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry to restrict fishing in the breeding areas of the ringed seal. The controversy about the conservation of the Saimaa ringed seal is a revealing example of transition of an environmental conflict into a larger scale criticism of ongoing transformations in society related to paradigmatic changes of fisheries governance institutions. In addition to changed emphasis in different basic world outlooks, the contexts of the paradigms have changed. The policy restricting fishing by the authorities to support seal conservation is located between the paradigms of conservation and rationalisation. The Government has aligned itself with modern conservation ideas, but at the same time aroused strong resistance from the local level of fisheries governance. The local and regional stakeholders emphasised private water ownership, local knowledge and already established local agreements for seal conservation.