An Oxford University scientist is asking for support from the fishing industry in a national survey on the extent of depredation of catches by seals in commercial fishing operations.

Recent underwater camera footage has shown not only seals entering trawls to feed, but also ‘thumping’ codends during a tow, indicating that it is not just static-gear fishermen who are suffering seal depredation.

Whilst the full extent remains unquantified, fishermen around the entire UK coastline have reported an ever-growing problem, impacting not only traditional gill-net fisheries for whitefish such as cod, but sole, bass and skate fisheries as well.

Pot fishermen have similarly reported a rise both of seals targeting fresh bait in the pots and of fish within the pots being regularly bitten in half.

In 2020, the UK Special Committee on Seals, which advises the government on seal management, highlighted a major knowledge gap on fisheries-seal interactions.

The new project, following a successful pilot in Hastings, aims to fill this gap to assist future management efforts and a wider understanding of the full extent of the issue.

Claire Tanner, the scientist undertaking the research, said: “We’re surveying a variety of vessel sizes, gear types and target species, from ports around the UK. These differences will allow us to assess which fisheries are most affected, economically, by seal interactions. The results will be shared with policy-makers to improve management of seal- fisheries interactions.

“In addition, we will be interviewing fishers to gauge the trend in interactions over time, as our depredation data will only account for the present interactions. Our interviews are held in person, and ask questions relating to historical interactions and economic loss.

“We’re really grateful to the Hastings fishermen who have helped us to date.”

The survey will include details of how to send in samples of fish predated from gear, if this is available, for analysis by the scientists.

If you would like to participate, contact:

This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.50 here

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