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2014 POLICY STATEMENT ON SEAL CULLING

The primary objective of the I.S.S. is the provision of a Sanctuary for rescued wildlife, primarily seals. Further objectives are welfare, education, research and conservation and this brief is rooted in the twin principles and beliefs that:

  1. Nature conservation can only succeed by the efforts of Nations full of Nature watchers.
  2. Nature conservation can only succeed by also conserving human settlements and communities, in our case, the emphasis being on threatened coastal communities.

The I.S.S. has reviewed the evidence nationally and internationally from the 60’s to this day, including, I.U.C.N., Royal Canadian Commission, Position papers of the Canadian and Norwegian Governments, B.I.M., independent scientists and N.G.O.’s and we can find no evidence to support the argument for seal culls, with respect to (a) increasing fish stocks, or (b) assisting stock recovery.

Indeed, investigating the history and scientific data from seal culls to date, early evidence would indicate seal culls actually predispose commercial fish stocks to other forms of predation.

There is no argument for seal culling on:

    1. Economic grounds – Culls are invariably illegal or where legal, heavily subsidised. The simplistic argument of “less seals, more fish” has been disproved sufficiently by multi-species modelling, the experience of Canadian Research, research in the Barents Sea and the oft quoted Cape Fur seal / hake fisheries. This evidence alone must introduce a note of caution for even the most avid seal cull advocates.
    2. Social grounds – Aboriginal hunts apart, there are no social/cultural arguments for seal culling. Seal meat, despite intensive marketing efforts in Canada, can find no popular outlet and part use of animals, such as the trade in body parts for the oriental markets, violates the principles of full use strategies / policies of those countries where culling is legal.
    3. Scientific grounds – Marine food webs are so complex and as yet so poorly understood that this evidence is simply not available and if the scanty, circumstantial evidence provided by some fisheries scientists is taken, it could spell economic doom for certain fisheries. The onus is on the fisheries scientists to provide proofs that seal culls could be of any possible value to fisheries, before the “precautionary principle” should be violated. In Ireland, where the bulk of such funding goes to fisheries scientists for such research, giving rise to inevitable conflicts of interest and doubt being cast on such research, it is imperative that matching funding be given to independent scientists and funding for monitoring this research and accessing data be given to the I.S.S.. To date, we are denied this information resulting in an investigation by the European Commission.
    4. Humane grounds – Clean kills of seals and other marine mammals are difficult and thus unacceptable and the I.S.S. has requested funding from Canada and Norway to observe their legalised hunts at first hand and comment. To date, this accommodation has not been forthcoming.
    5. Ethical grounds – Where no argument can be made on on scientific, economic or social grounds in favour of seal culling, early scientific evidence indicates otherwise and welfare arguments clearly oppose culling, ethically the proposition in favour of culling must be rejected.

The problem and challenge to fisheries scientists, politicians and the fishing community is to face up to the internationally acknowledged problem of over-fishing; the take over of the fishing industry by large business corporations and the displacement and systematic depopulation of previously sustainable fishing communities. This policy is E.U. driven, assisted by our own National and local politicians, and divisions within the ranks of the fishing community itself, where larger more unscrupulous operators are fishing smaller operators out of business. Worsening this free for all in what are now open-access fisheries is the ready availability of markets beyond Europe, lack of protection and regulation. Fisheries organisations, most notably the S. & W.F.O. have tried to highlight this plunder, largely by non-nationals, which throws even perceived predation by seals into insignificance. Figures have been set as high as £2bn./per annum of fish taken from Irish waters, when official figures are only £700million.

In the case of fixed-net fisheries, where local conflicts do arise between fisheries and seals, stocks are being depleted offshore thus intensifying conflict inshore. In the case of salmon this problem has been exacerbated by huge increases in the production of farmed salmon, with no premium for wild caught salmon.

The I.S.S. has sought the funds for independent monitoring, has sought access to scientific data of E.U. research and has offered to put observers on boats to witness damage at first hand. Politicians, fisheries boards and Fisheries Scientists have all declined our offers and restricted access to information.

In Ireland, as the last island nation in Europe and in the case of the Grey Seal, the World¹s first protected species, there is yet the opportunity to resolve a conflict, arising more from misinformation than fact, and become a role model for wildlife conservation worldwide.

The I.S.S. in all it’s submissions and surveys has made the case for:

  1. Protecting local fisheries for local communities.
  2. Premium payments for premium produce and niche marketing.
  3. Protection and regulation of what are now effectively open-access fisheries.
  4. Equity within the fishing industry.
  5. Consumer support for fishing communities by pricing mechanisms that reflect best eco-auditing practices.
  6. More resources for seal and seal / fisheries interactions, research.
  7. Payment to fisheries operators for co-operation and input to research, as we have consistently found their information to be at least as accurate, as best available research.
  8. Resources for research into management solutions, where local conflicts do arise.
  9. Payment for damaged catch.
  10. Payment for provable lost catch.
  11. Strict enforcement of Wildlife Act for repeat offenders and no relaxation on protection for marine mammals, in forthcoming amendments.
  12. Development of seal watching and seal / marine tourism with the fishing industry, as a supplement to fishing income.
  13. A special task force to research / address seal / fisheries interactions with free access to data and comprising representatives of fisheries / N.P.W.S., O.P.W., tourism and the I.S.S.

The I.S.S. is actively involved in trying to assist coastal communities in all of the ways outlined. The I.S.S. is receiving increasing reports of incidents of illegal seal culling. To date we have discussed these matters with the instigators and the authorities, without seeking prosecutions. Increased evidence however of culling and incitement to cull by politically motivated interests, indicate we should take a harder line and we do not wish to see seals or sustainable and traditional fishing interests made scapegoats in this looming orchestrated conflict.

The I.S.S. calls on all concerned to take a step back and examine the evidence before rushing further down the road of illegal culling or creating a mood for a legal cull, which will be of no benefit.

The I.S.S. has never been in the tradition of seal-hugging conservation and welfare organisations, demonising and marginalising fishermen, emotionally milking the public for funds and power building for themselves. Indeed we have opposed such organisations from at home and abroad and stood between them and Irish fishing communities. We have prevented large scale P.R. events by such organisations and advised them not to generalise and to stay out of Ireland, in the belief they would only create disharmony and our fishing communities would come to their own conclusions calmly and reasonably. The I.S.S. does not claim to have all the answers but demands openness and honesty, without which we could not maintain this situation. If seal cull protagonists continue to incite, they will inevitably draw in some of these hugely resourced, international N.G.O.s and provide them with further material to fund-raise, without addressing the long term problems of coastal communities.

Such is the reputation of the I.S.S. for integrity, reason and balance that we are sustained in part unconditionally by the fishing industry and are consulted internationally as well as at home.

References:

I.S.S. reports. (Published and unpublished)
Hislop J. 1992
Mohn, R. and W. D. Bowen 1994
Punt, A.E. 1994
Ciaran Crummy and B.I.M.
Royal Canadian Commission.
Norwegian and Canadian embassies.
Dept. of the Marine.
National Parks and Wildlife Service, O.P.W.
Woodley,T.H. and Lavigne, D.M. 1995
Yodzis. P. 1994

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