Inshore fishermen in Kerry are calling for an immediate cull of the seal population of the Blaskets and surrounding coastal areas, claiming that the damage to fish stocks and nets is now simply “unsustainable”.
Population numbers of grey seals, and the smaller common seal, have visibly increased in recent years, with thousands of grey seals now resident on the Trá Bán, or White Strand, on the Great Blasket Island.
Both the grey and common or harbour seal are protected under the EU Habitats Directive, and the Blaskets are a Special Area of Conservation for seals.
The seals have no natural predators other than the occasional orca whale.
A permit to kill protected wild animals or birds that are causing serious damage may be granted by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) under section 42 of the Wildlife Act, 1976.
However, figures released to Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris by the Minister for Culture, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan, revealed that only 21 such licences were granted for the killing of seals during the period 2010 to the end of 2018.
The attacks on pollock and other fish stocks are now unsustainable and are forcing smaller fishermen out of business and out of the winter fishing trade, a public meeting at Long’s pub in Dingle was told before Christmas.
A number of politicians, including Kerry TDs, attended the meeting.
The seals are following the gill netters, and are attacking nets of trawlers and bigger ships up to 110km off shore and damaging their hake and haddock catches, the meeting heard.
Fisherman Adam Flannery said: “They’ll also follow the boats into the harbour.
We are looking for a cull. Because if we do not get a cull in six to eight months, within a few years there won’t be any inshore boat in Dingle.”
Smaller-scale fishermen in Dingle, restricted by quotas and under pressure from seal attacks, have to stand by and watch Spanish boats land their catch onto trucks bound for Rosslare and Spain, said Mr Flannery, adding that while the meeting was taking place on Monday, no fewer than six large articulated trucks left Dingle pier for Spain.
“We are not asking for slaughter but we are asking for seal management, and a proper cull,” said Mr Flannery.
Recent research carried out by the Sea Mammal Research Unit of the University of St Andrews on behalf of the NPWS found there were over 4,000 harbour seals and almost 3,700 grey seals around the coast of Ireland — increases of between 15% and 25% on five years ago.