Government mulls 'insane' pilot scheme to allow fishermen shoot seals with high-powered rifles

Government mulls 'insane' pilot scheme to allow fishermen shoot seals with high-powered rifles

There are approximately 8,000-10,000 grey seals and about 5,000 harbour seals in Ireland. File picture.

The government is examining the potential for an "insane" pilot scheme to shoot seals with high-powered rifles from boats.

The scheme would see licenses granted potentially in Kerry and Cork to protect fishermen's catches.

The latest population estimates available to government indicate that there are approximately 8,000-10,000 grey seals and about 5,000 harbour seals in Ireland.

According to Minister Darragh O'Brien, while seals are a protected species, the Department for Housing, Local Government and Heritage may issue licenses to "cull individual problem seals, and affected persons can apply for such licenses".

Five license applications have been received to date this year. 

"One was approved. One was refused as it related to the shooting of seals on the Blasket Islands, a Special Area of Conservation for seals," Mr O'Brien confirmed in writing to Michael Healy Rae.

"The remaining three applications, two in Kerry and one in Cork, involved shooting seals, including from boats. 

"There are concerns about this approach to seal management, given the potential safety concerns arising from using high-powered rifles on moving platforms. 

"Nonetheless, my Department is examining the potential for a pilot scheme which would test this approach and determine its efficacy in protecting fishermen’s catches. 

"A decision on the remaining licences has been delayed until this pilot scheme can be advanced. Plans to initiate this scheme earlier in the year had to be postponed due to the pandemic."

Pádraic Fogarty from the Irish Wildlife Trust says the issue is low fish stock, which is not exacerbated by seals.

"The idea of shooting seals with rifles from boats is insane," he said.

"There has long been a narrative that seals are to blame for poor fish catches but this can be blamed on chronic overfishing and destruction of marine habitats over recent decades. 

"Fish populations have collapsed around our coastline from bottom trawling in particular. There has never been any evidence to suggest that shooting seals will address this problem."

Melanie Croce, the Executive Director of Seal Rescue Ireland, says that a wider environmental approach would be much more effective than shooting animals.

"For comparison, there are 120,000 seals in the UK," she said.

"We're far behind and seals are so important for the marine environment, for recycling nutrients and feeding plankton.

"As a wider issue we should be protecting biodiversity, we undertake proactive environmental work planting trees around waterways which promotes fish life and improves water quality.

"Degraded water quality explains low fish stock, there is common ground here, we can protect the environment, the seals and the fisherman, instead of having the fishermen and the seals fighting over the last remaining fish.

"This also sounds very unsafe, for humans and seals, and we know fishing is already an unsafe profession."

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