Seals are “sea vermin” who should be killed, according to a group of Cornish fishermen.
After fishers on an online marketplace and forum expressed outrage about the amount of fish seals eat, marine campaign groups retaliated.
The Cornish Mackerel Fishermen association said on Facebook that “for every fish captured by our fisheries, seals devour 53 times more,” adding, “We need a cull!”
The anglers did not provide a source for this figure. Seals are thought to eat as much fish as commercial fisheries catch in some locations, according to some research.
Following reaction, the group retaliated by saying, “This page is for line fisherman, which is the most environmentally benign method of fishing.” Super trawlers and ring netters are not supported by line fishermen in the area.
“There’s a real problem with the seal population around the UK as they have no predators any more? All you lot see is cute furry labrador-looking animals when in fact they are like the rats of the sea.”
This description is disputed by scientists. A European parliament technical paper entitled Seals and Fish Stocks in Scottish Waters found: “The effects of predation by both species of seals on overall stock abundance of most fish species is likely to be insignificant.” It said seals consume relatively little fish compared with other species. Seabirds, for example, are thought to eat twice as many fish as seals in Scottish waters.
Another study, which was conducted in Ireland in 2015, found seals mostly eat smaller fish, which commercial fishers cannot legally take. Experts have also pointed out that seals face unfair persecution because they are larger and more obvious than other marine predators that compete with fisheries for prey.
It is also accepted by scientists that seals are an important part of the food chain. As apex predators, seals control populations of prey, as well as spreading nutrients around, which in turn feeds plankton and other organisms at the bottom of the food chain. They are also indicators of a healthy marine ecosystem.
Despite this, there is animosity from some fisheries towards seals. Until recently, it was legal in Scotland to shoot seals to protect the salmon farming industry, with 80 shot in 2020. The Scottish government stopped issuing licences to kill seals last year, to protect £180m in annual salmon exports to the US, which is banning imports from countries that allow seals to be killed to protect fisheries.
The Blue Planet Society, a volunteer pressure group working to protect the marine ecosystem, condemned the comments from the Cornish fishers group.
A spokesperson said: “Cannot believe a UK commercial fishing page thinks it is acceptable to post this propaganda and call for a seal cull. It’s likely that seals – through tourism-related activities – contribute more to the UK economy than the fishing industry does.
“It was Cornish Mackerel Fishermen that called for the seal cull. And here we were thinking that line-caught fish from small-scale fisheries was the sustainable choice. Please keep this in mind next time you see the label ‘Cornish mackerel’.”
This article by Helena Horton was first published by The Guardian on 25 April 2022. Lead Image: ‘For every fish caught by our fisheries, seals eat 53 times more,” said the Cornish Mackerel Fishermen group without providing a source for the figure. Photograph: Natasha Tiltman/Alamy.
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