Seals savaging fish stocks off local coastline

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Seals off the coast of Whitby are wreaking havoc with salmon stocks and severely impacting on coble fishing for local boats.

The problem is exacerbated by predatory seals taking fish out of nets, the damage to the nets is affected on a daily basis.

Livelihoods are being affected and it is mainly the smaller boats.

Martin Hopper

When Martin Hopper, skipper of the Courage, first started fishing in 1979, there was a fleet of 25 boats and it was rare to come across a seal.

Recently he has come across a colony of 300 and spends most of his valuable fishing time trying to avoid them. Fully grown adult common and grey seals consume around 5-10% of their bodyweight in fish or other marine creatures when they feed.

“Take an average grey seal as weighing 350lbs and say it eats 7% of its bodyweight this would equate to 24-25lbs of fish every time it feeds.

“In areas where large seal colonies are present there is no doubt that they are eating a lot of fish,” he said.

“Once they get used to where you go they are waiting at the same spot. That’s how clever they are.

“I got a seal with me at Hawsker and so I travelled back to Sandsend. It followed me and then came back with me to Hawsker. They follow you like a dog.”

Anyone who is fishing from a small boat is affected.

“When there’s a lot of fish the seals just take one bite and then leave them. When each salmon can have a value between £20-£40 the financial impact this has on Martin’s catch is huge,” he said.

The rivers are protected but once the fish are in the sea, there is nothing to protect them. The season is only three months long.

Ideal conditions for this type of fishing is rough weather.

“Salmon are clever – they see the net when the sea is calm, when it is clearer it is harder to fish. The public have no idea and managing the problem would cause an uproar.

“Seals also deplete cod as they strip the netting completely. Financially it is devastating, a lot of people give up fishing as it is that bad.

“Livelihoods are being affected and it is mainly the smaller boats under 10 metres, like mine.”

Martin has tried acoustic devices and logged the effect for North Eastern Fisheries, but these make little difference and often work as an alarm, letting the seals know that fishing is happening in that area warning.

Martin and other local fishermen feel despondent as the seals are destroying their livelihood and fish stocks for the future.