The threat of a seal cull in Tor Bay has alarmed conservationists
By Allan Tudor
This is Devon//Herald Express
3rd June 2004
The threat of a seal cull in Tor Bay has alarmed conservationists.
A small number of the tiny colony of resident grey seals are said to be raiding the gill nets of inshore fishermen, effecting their catches of high value species like bass and damaging their gear. The British Divers Marine Life Rescue charity claims there is a real possibility fishermen are to carry out a cull using a high-powered rifle to shoot the seals in the water.
There are an estimated dozen seals living off the South Devon coast and many of them haul out on rocks off Dartmouth. A Devon spokesman for the charity said: "These are wily, intelligent and powerful creatures. They are lurking at the surface near the boats as the fishermen haul the nets to snatch the fish.
"We understand the fishermen have a living to make but a cull would be out of proportion to the problem and would threaten the species in the Bay. There is also an animal welfare issue as there nothing to stop a fisherman wounding a seal and leaving it to swim off to die a horrible death.
"I am not a marksman but I can see that to shoot a small moving head from a small boat bobbing in the waves would not be simple."
The threat has also concerned the Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust.
Dominic Acland, director of the trust, said: "I am surprised and concerned if there is a problem.
"The seals are an important part of our marine life and I doubt if the numbers would warrant a cull. These animals are important to the environment and the tourism industry. If the law allows fishermen to kill them, then the law is wrong and it must be changed.
"Surely there must be enough fish in the sea for us and the seals?"
The fishermen have been seeking advice about what to do.
Fisheries officer Nick Wright, for DEFRA in Torbay, said: "A small number of fishermen are having a real problems with seals interfering with their catch and causing damage to their gear.
"An option is to kill a seal but nothing so far has been done. They do have a real problem and are at their wits end and need to do something about it.
"They are not seeking to kill seals deliberately, and they have done everything they possibly can, which is why they have approached us the police and the RSPCA for help and advice."
Keith Bower, for the Devon Sea Fisheries, said: "There are about five seals in the Bay and they are raiding nets.
"What is going to be done about it I don't know and I have heard nothing about a cull."
The rescue divers claim: "These fishermen claim that the action is in response to loss of fish in their nets and damage to gear caused by the seals.
"The fishermen plan to shoot the seals with a high powered rifle.
"We do not support the necessity for a cull of the seals in the Torbay area for fisheries protection.
"The charity is concerned that if such a cull goes ahead, that individual animals may be caused serious suffering if not killed outright.
"A cull would irreversibly affect the small colony in that area which is believed to number less than ten animals."
It is urges restraint from the fishermen and strongly suggests that they consult closely with all organisations involved "before going ahead with this disproportionate action."
It says it is willing to discuss the problem with the fishermen and assist with trying other methods to deter the seals.
A spokesman for the RSPCA said: "We've learned that a group of fishermen in the Torbay area of Devon are considering carrying out a cull of resident grey seals with the use of a high powered rifle.
"These fishermen claim that their action is in response to loss of fish in their nets and damage to gear caused by the seals.
"The society is concerned that if any such cull were to go ahead, individual animals could needlessly suffer if not killed outright.
"It believes there are a number of options available for deterring the seals and urges the fishermen to enter into a constructive dialogue with DEFRA, the RSPCA and the British Divers Marine Life Rescue before taking any action.
"Moreover, the society believes that this incident highlights the inadequacy of current legislation protecting seals.
"The Conservation of Seals Act 1970 does not provide any protection for the welfare of seals.
"The current law is far too ambiguous in terms of what measures fishermen can take when seals are in close proximity to their nets, and does not protect seals from being legally killed if they are perceived as a threat."