Martin Jaffa

Fish Farmer - - Contents - BY DR MARTIN JAFFA

IONCE heard a story that, back in the day, game­keep­ers tak­ing new clients out deer stalk­ing used to check on their abil­ity to shoot straight by lead­ing them down to the river es­tu­ary and ge ng them to shoot a cou­ple of seals. As well as see­ing how well they could shoot, it helped keep lo­cal seal num­bers un­der con­trol and hence pro­tect wild sal­mon stocks. Seals are now pro­tected and such prac­tices, i true, are his­tory.

Seals are in the news with two sto­ries that high­light the di cul­ties o pro­tec­tion and con­ser­va­tion.

The Ir­ish news­pa­per the Ker­ry­man (In­de­pen­ re­ports that Laune Sal­mon and Trout An­glers As­so­ci­a­tion has out­lined the stark re­al­ity that sal­mon stocks have plum­meted as a re­sult of in­creas­ing seal num­bers.

The as­so­ci­a­tion is hop­ing to se­cure the sup­port o the county coun­cil or a cull in what they see as a last-ditch ef­fort to save lo­cal sal­mon stocks, which they say are in ter­mi­nal de­cline.

The as­so­ci­a­tion is not look­ing or a gen­eral cull but the con­trol o spe­cialised seals’ that have learned to push up the river in the hunt for food.

The as­so­ci­a­tion had pre­vi­ously blamed lo­cal dri net fish­eries or the de­crease in sal­mon stocks, but de­spite buy­ing out the nets some years ago the de­cline has con­tin­ued.

ow the an­glers are call­ing or the same mea­sure that the net­ters once de­manded – a cull of seals.

In Scot­land, the Times news­pa­per re­ported that li­censed shoot­ing o seals has in­creased by 50 per cent in the first hal o this year com­pared to 2016.

Last year, 41 seals were shot in Scot­land whereas this year, the num­ber has in­creased to 61. The paper says that most were shot by fish arms .

In­ter­est­ingly, the two crit­ics o shoot­ing seals quoted in the re­port pre er to lay the blame with sal­mon arm­ers while choos­ing not to crit­i­cise oth­ers who are re­spon­si­ble for seal deaths.

Although there has been a slight in­crease in the num­ber of seals shot, the gen­eral trend is down­wards and the num­ber killed much lower than the 450 killed in 2011.

Sal­mon farm­ers would rather not shoot any seals but, just as the an­glers in the River Laune have dis­cov­ered, some in­di­vid­u­als try to push the bound­aries in their hunt for food. It is th­ese few seals that run the risk of be­ing shot.

In­evitably, the few odd seals that step up their hunt for food will even­tu­ally be­come many. This is part of the nat­u­ral preda­tor-prey life cy­cle that gov­erns many an­i­mal re­la­tion­ships.

Sim­ply, a bounty of lo­cal food will pro­vide the nu­tri­ents or pop­u­la­tion growth o a preda­tor pop­u­la­tion. In the case o seals, healthy fish stocks will en­sure seal pop­u­la­tions can con­tinue to re­pro­duce and grow.

How­ever, a grow­ing seal pop­u­la­tion will even­tu­ally de­vour the lo­cal food re­serves, lead­ing to star­va­tion and pre­ma­ture death, and the pop­u­la­tion will col­lapse. The re­duced eed­ing pres­sure will help lo­cal food re­cover and so the cy­cle will con­tinue.

The pres­ence of hu­mans has meant that pop­u­la­tions be­came reg­u­lated. Seals were killed to main­tain a bal­ance but, with in­creased con­ser­va­tion mea­sures and pro­tec­tion, seal pop­u­la­tions have been able to grow, es­pe­cially on the west coast.

Food is not as abun­dant as it used to be and a few seals are tempted by the rich re­sources found in farms.

Crit­ics say that arms should put more ro­bust de­fences in place to keep th­ese few seals away, but this is not a so­lu­tion. The grow­ing and pro­tected seal pop­u­la­tion will de­plete the lo­cal food sources and ei­ther be­come a much wider prob­lem for farms, even with the most ro­bust de­fences, or the seals will starve.

The ques­tion is then, what will the seal char­i­ties do to help th­ese seals Will they come with ood or re­move weak seals to their sanc­tu­ar­ies

With­out ef­fec­tive man­age­ment, pro­tected pop­u­la­tions will be in­creas­ingly out o bal­ance with na­ture. What will hap­pen then

In Ire­land, lo­cal sal­mon stocks are not just un­der threat from seals. The num­bers of re­turn­ing sal­mon have allen sig­nif­i­cantly over the last 30 years.

Seals may be the fi­nal nail in the co n as they wipe out the fish that do man­age to sur­vive and re­turn. Are wild sal­mon as wor­thy o pro­tec­tion

Op­po­site: Com­mon seals

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