State issues permits to salmon farms to kill protected seals, documents say
NATIONAL PARKS and the Wildlife Service granted 11 permits to salmon farms between 2015 and 2020 to kill seals normally protected by bullet, documents communicated to Remarkable can reveal.
At least two gray seals and three harbor seals were killed, with no data available on the number of seals killed in most cases, according to records obtained by Remarkable following a request for details on seal slaughter by salmon farms or hatcheries.
In 1914, gray seals became the first officially protected species in the world after being nearly hunted until the population collapsed. Both species are now protected by the European Habitats Directive.
Despite their protected status, the Department of Housing – under the jurisdiction of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) – can issue licenses to kill a small number of protected wildlife considered to cause property damage – in this case the salmon stocks.
The salmon farming industry is Ireland’s largest aquaculture sector, valued at an estimated € 127 million last year. Breeding takes place in large enclosures in sheltered, deep-water bays along the west coast.
Details of the seal cull were disclosed following an access to environmental information (AIE) request under the Remarkable Troubled Waters survey of the industry’s potential environmental impacts.
Other articles published this week will examine the broader ecological impacts of the industry, as well as lingering concerns about the licensing system that has allowed salmon farms to operate for more than a decade with expired licenses and without an environmental assessment. in accordance with EU law.
To view a searchable version of this table, click here.
Eleven licenses issued since 2015
In data published at Remarkable, the Housing Department confirmed that 11 permits were issued to kill gray or harbor seals in the counties of Cork, Kerry, Galway, Mayo and Sligo between 2015 and 2019. No permits were issued in 2020.
The most recent license was issued in August 2019, most for short periods ranging from one to two months, although two of the licenses were granted for longer periods of four and five months respectively.
The Ministry refused to disclose the names of the farms that carried out the slaughtering both in the IEA decision and following an internal review of the decision requested by Remarkable. The ministry said the disclosure of company names “would adversely affect the confidentiality of personal information.”
Following the internal review, the Department provided Remarkable with redacted copies of the 11 licenses. Copies of the licenses can be found here.
A review of the permits shows that authorization was granted in each case for the killing of one or two seals by a stalker with a gun.
In all cases, the license conditions stipulated that NPWS officers could carry out spot checks. Several licenses also required the local ranger to be contacted prior to the shooting event.
Applications are supposed to be investigated by local NPWS staff to determine if serious damage is caused by the seals and the most practical method of controlling the problem.
The Department said Remarkable that local staff review applications from salmon farms before issuing a permit, but could not confirm whether site visits are being undertaken in all cases.
He said “regional NPWS staff are reviewing the request and, resources permitting, would visit the site in question.”
“Each request is considered on a case-by-case basis and a decision is taken on the basis of the information to be transmitted to the local level. Each license also contains specific conditions that must be met and they also have a start and end date, ”he said.
“Shocked” that the licenses are issued
Talk to RemarkablePádraic Fogarty of the Irish Wildlife Trust said that although the number of seals killed was quite low, he was “shocked that the NPWS is issuing licenses to kill seals for this purpose.”
In Ireland 8,000-10,000 gray seals and 4,000 harbor seals are found around the Irish coast with the largest populations along the west coast from Kerry north to Mayo and Donegal.
Fogarty said the culling of protected species “should only take place in the most exceptional circumstances and protection of salmon farms is not one of those reasons”.
Although the gray seal has enjoyed protection since the early 1970s, Fogarty said the species still faces “many threats, including illegal persecution, entanglement in discarded plastic fishing gear, overfishing of their food supply and pollution ”.
Melanie Croce, executive director of Seal Rescue Ireland, said staff come “face to face with the pressures human activities place on seal populations” every day.
The group recorded its highest number of seals rescued last year, as well as a sharp increase in the number of dead seals from 102 in 2019 to 201 in 2020. So far this year alone, 168 cases of dead seals have been reported to the group. .
To view a higher resolution version of this map, click here.
“No scientific support” for the slaughter
Since seals are a highly mobile species that can travel hundreds of kilometers a day, Croce said there is “no scientific evidence to support that [the] hunting seals means that the interactions between the seals and a given fish farm will cease ”.
After reviewing the logging permits issued to RemarkableCroce expressed concern about the extent to which compliance can be overseen and tracked by the NPWS.
“In our own interactions with the NPWS, it is clear that it is overloaded and understaffed, and we are concerned about the capacity of too few guards, covering too large areas, to be able to provide surveillance. sufficient to ensure the conditions of these licenses are met, ”she said.
The ministry said site visits are generally not carried out by NPWS staff due to resource issues and competing work priorities, but in many cases local staff are said to have intimate knowledge of the area. In the case of Sligo’s licenses, they included site visits and meetings, he said.
“[The] The NPWS does not have the resources to keep track of every license issued. Conditions are added to the license and must be observed. If there was any suspicion that this was not the case, it would be investigated, ”he added.
Three gray seals near Howth Harbor
Source: Viktor Loki
Backlash on the seal slaughter regime
Last year, calls for the seal slaughter drew strong reactions due to the impact on the fishing industry.
Responding to a question on Kerry TD’s “seal population problem” Michael Healy-Rae last September, Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien referred to a pilot project where seals would be slaughtered to “determine its effectiveness in protect fishermen’s catches ”.
Remarkable previously revealed in its investigation into the net losses on the environmental impacts of our fishing industry that this pilot project was proposed after the Department received applications for a license to hunt seals from boats. The NPWS received six license applications in 2020.
The minister quickly distanced himself from the idea and received nearly 50 letters and emails from the public, obtained by Remarkable through Freedom of Information (FOI).
Almost all were opposed to the seal killing, many expressing their “anger”, “disgust” and “shock” at the idea. One person asked if the government was “determined to destroy our wildlife” while another asked if the minister “was trying to win us the title of” European Capital of Cruelty “.
In Part Two, tomorrow we look at concerns about state oversight of salmon aquaculture and the potential impacts on the marine environment from sea lice, fish diseases and farm escapes.
This survey was conducted by Niall sargent of Remarkable. It was proposed and funded by you, our readers.
Noteworthy is The Journal’s investigative journalism platform. You can support our work by helping to fund one of our other survey proposals or by submitting an article idea. Click here to find out more >>
We have a number of other biodiversity-related proposals that you can check out here.