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Fishing leader wants seal cull to protect cod stocks

12th May 2003

The Scotsman - Frank Urquart & Fiona Stewart

A SCOTTISH fishermen’s leader has called for a mass seal cull around the country’s coast to prevent fragile stocks of cod from further collapse.

George MacRae, the secretary of the Scottish White Fish Producers’ Association, claimed yesterday that the European Union’s plans to protect cod stocks did not address the impact of seals.

Franz Fischler, the European Fisheries Commissioner, last week announced a long-term plan to save stocks, but Mr MacRae said it failed to take into account large-scale predation by seals in the North Sea and off the west coast.

Seal culling was banned in 1978, and fishermen and conservationists have been deadlocked since over its reintroduction to protect fish stocks.

Mr MacRae accused the European Commissioner of bowing to pressures from the green lobby by taking no action against the growing threat which "dewy-eyed" seals posed to depleted stocks.

He said: "It is a proven scientific fact that of the total annual mortality of fish in the North Sea each year, no more than 20 per cent can be attributable to commercial fishing.

"The other 80 per cent is attributable to predation by fish of each other, seals, seabirds, whales, pollution, and changes in sea temperature.

"None of this is being addressed in the Fischler proposals, largely because they are either scared or cannot be bothered taking on the environmental lobby.

"Environmentalists will be delighted at the Fischler proposals, as it allows dewy-eyed seals to grow, consuming all the fish they like, leaving fishermen being the easy hit for political extremism."

‘Powers to control seals and to protect fisheries exist’

George Baxter, a spokesman for the environmental group WWF Scotland, said cod stocks had to be allowed to recover from past over-fishing. He said: "It is a matter of balancing the needs of the economy with the needs of nature."

Advocates for Animals said it was appalled that seals were again taking the blame for the fishing industry’s mismanagement of fish stocks due to over-fishing.

A spokesman for the campaign group said: "Increasingly, seals are being persecuted in the name of fisheries’ protection when commercial overfishing is the real problem.

"Time and time again, the fishing industry claim stocks are not recovering because of the seals, but the industry needs to look at itself.

"The issue over seals has grown in international importance and it is our duty to protect them."

Last September, Ross Finnie, the then environment minister, introduced the Conservation of Seals (Scotland) Order to prevent the culling of seals because of a deadly virus sweeping through seal populations in Europe.

The order prohibited the killing, injuring or taking of either common or grey seals within the Moray Firth until September 2004, despite estimates that the seal population has increased four fold in the last three decades.

However, the Scottish Executive said no cull was planned. A spokesman said: "There are no plans to authorise a seal cull in Scottish waters. Current independent scientific advice considers that a cull would not safeguard fish stocks in the way anticipated by fisheries interests.

"Suitable powers to control seals and to protect fisheries already exists under the Conservation of Seals Act 1970.

"Furthermore, the Scottish Seal Forum, which includes fisheries interests, was set up by the Executive to consider possible seal management measures."