Bryan Gibson looks at the problems that seals can cause for fishermen and fish farmers.
often nature finds a way of outwitting mankind and then continues to improve
upon the technique throughout the passage of time; but where fishermen and
seals are concerned, fishermen are finding themselves outsmarted by a highly
intelligent and adaptable enemy fighting upon home territory.
evolved from land-based mammals such as bears, weasels, racoons and skunks
about 50 million years ago, and withstood the ravages of evolution by their
ability to reason, little wonder the common and grey seals living in the cold
waters of the northern hemisphere are giving commercial fishermen a good run
for their money.
fishing boat owner from Padstow in Cornwall, UK, told WF&A, that “Gillnet fishermen also don’t stand much chance
against seals. On a recent trip our monkfish catch would have been worth over
£8,000, but when we hauled our net, we strongly believe that over half the
catch had been ripped apart by seals. And as both grey and common seals are
endangered and legally protected, unlike our Scottish colleagues, there’s
nothing we can do to stop them.”
invented ‘pingers’ costing up to £125 each to frighten dolphins away from our
submerged fishing nets, and for a while they also discouraged seals, but it
wasn’t very long before the seals realised that wherever the pinging sound was
coming from, there was also a free meal, so now the deterrent acts as a dinner
gong for seals.”
of the concentrated nourishment in a fish is contained within the liver and
intestines. Seals must consume huge quantities of fat and oils in relation to
the predominantly protein-rich white flesh we humans value so highly. And this
is where seals can come into such great conflict with fishermen.
a fox in a chicken run, when a seal is presented with more food than it can
eat, it will only take the most prized body parts from the many, and where
seals are concerned this means biting just the stomachs of fat bellied,
commercially valuable fish such as cod, haddock, hake and monkfish, leaving the
fishermen with only gillnetted fish heads trapped in their nets.
Broome, Attraction Manager at The National Seal Sanctuary told WF&A, “We acknowledge that seals
often come into direct conflict with fishermen, but we do our best to minimise
such impact by purchasing our fish supplies locally.”
Cooper, BSC, Hons, Animal Care Supervisor believes that seals are unfairly
taking the blame for a large proportion of such losses and there are many other
suspects to consider. “Fishermen must learn to share ‘their’ resources and be
willing to change their own working practices. I believe gillnets are left
unattended for far too long, which gives other predators, large and small, the
time to grasp any opportunity to predate upon the immobilised fish. Crustaceans
and molluscs also take their toll upon catches, as well as larger fish and
dolphins. If fishermen were more willing to vary their fishing areas and to travel
further offshore, then the seals would have greater difficulty in discovering
Lost catch Chris
Bean of Kernow Sashimi is one of Cornwall’s most regularly televised
sustainable fishermen. Chris works from his traditional Cornish built, ‘Under
Ten Metres’ open decked wooden boat out of Cornwall’s Helford River and
estimates that he loses between £4,000 and £6,000 catch value each year to
seals. “That’s extremely annoying when I reflect upon the fact that a mile-or-so
upstream the National Seal Sanctuary, owned by a huge world-girdling,
profit-orientated amusement park concern, Merlin Entertainments Inc, rescues
about 60 seal pups each autumn and teaches them throughout the winter to
associate we humans with a food source which requires little or no effort to capture.
Then they release them back into the sea the following spring to grab the fish
from my net before I can haul it onboard.”
Andy Ottaway of the
Seal Protection Action Group (SPAG) says, “Salmon farming in the Scottish
lochs as well as rod and line caught salmon in the Scottish rivers claim to be
suffering particularly badly from seal predation, which led to salmon farmers
receiving permission from the Scottish government to shoot up to 1,298 seals in
“The Scottish Government’s seal licence scheme claims to be a
significant step forward in reducing the numbers of seals shot each year.
However, without an effective inspection and monitoring scheme, and non-lethal
measures to deter seals, the numbers of seals killed in Scotland is set to remain
unacceptably high. An average of over three seals shot every single day is too
high a price to pay for Scottish salmon,” said Mr Ottaway.
spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) said there was
no justification for shooting the animals and branded the Freedom Food scheme a
misleading and cruel scam. “It is outrageous that seals were wilfully deprived
of their existence so that a supermarket could steal their only source of food.
Around 70 per cent of the salmon produced in Scotland is reared on Freedom Food
approved farms. Freedom Food has 22 members in Scotland, operating 222 farms,
27 of which were involved in the slaughter.
2013, 60 seals were shot by Freedom Food members. It was claimed that such
measures were no different to those that protect hens from predatory attacks.
The shooting of one seal is one seal too many, but a sad reality of salmon
farming, that a determined predator is capable of bypassing all efforts to
exclude him and to attack the fish."
An RSPCA spokesman
insisted that it was concerned about the welfare of all animals and that such a
method of control was a last resort. However, “SPAG is working with a major
producer and a leading retailer of Scottish farmed salmon, along with the RSPCA
and scientists from the Sea Mammal Research Unit to eventually end all seal