Seal Cull in Ireland

This is something I would like to share with you after recently attending the SeaMonitor-STRAITS conference. I’m predicting that in the coming months, or years perhaps, we’ll see a sanctioned seal cull in Ireland. Mark my words! The listeners who have been with me for some time might remember that a few years ago I talked with a trawlerman who was arguing that the seal population needs to be reduced. His argument revolved around the impacts that seal presence had on small-boat fishing operators. You can check the link above for the full episode. However, the coming seal cull that I’m predicting is not going to be the result of the fishing lobby pressures. It’s going to be a desperate attempt to save the Atlantic salmon.

Of course, this is a highly controversial proposition, especially since the population of seals in Ireland only recently rebounded from persecution and infectious disease (PDV) outbreaks. Harbour seals are considered a species of special concern in Ireland and their numbers are in decline. On the other hand, apparently, not many people are aware of a catastrophic decline in Atlantic salmon stocks. There are many reasons for the decline: pollution, poaching, climate change, impacts of salmon aquaculture, yet unknown but possible impacts of the development of offshore renewables, and finally unbalanced ecosystems that entail increased predation pressure. There can be no doubt that all of those pressures are caused by human activities.

However, some wildlife managers and policymakers point to the fact that there is good data on how many salmon are required in rivers to maintain a population. But, there is no data on how many seals, or other predators like cormorants for example, are “required” to avoid population decline. Of course, there is no doubt in my mind that removing seals or cormorants is an easy, lazy even, and short-term solution to the problem. Adding more sprat, sand eel, dogfish and everything else to the ecosystem would be a preferable solution. Not only from the ecological but also from the long-term wild salmon stock preservation perspective.

I can think of quite a few changes that would likely have a much greater positive impact on the salmon population, for example: (re)introduction of a 6 nautical mile trawling ban, addressing the issue of salmon poaching in the rivers, better regulation and enforcement of open net salmon aquaculture, removal of weirs on salmon rivers, etc, etc. These are obviously harder and more expensive to implement and policymakers will likely follow the path of least resistance.

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