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 (Independent.ie) 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