A photo of a common seal A photo of a common seal

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ABPmer delivering seal deterrent project to reduce depredation of fishermen’s catches

We are working with the NFFO to reduce costs to the industry resulting from seals eating catches from fishing gear.

A project is underway to help improve advice on ways to prevent seals from taking fish catches.

Seals are notorious for eating catches from fishing gear in areas throughout English waters, resulting in costs to the industry in terms of loss of catch and damaged gear, and impacts on seals that might become entangled in the gear.

ABPmer is working with the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO) to gain an up-to-date understanding of the issue, and to identify and trial possible seal deterrents with the fishing industry.

A survey of 92 fisherman working throughout English waters showed that static nets are the main gear type to have frequent interactions with seals, with the south-west, east coast and north-east of England being the main problem areas. Fishermen perceive a large increase in the level of interactions with seals, with seal population growth thought to be the main driving factor.

Fishermen indicated that in many cases, seals can make fishing (particularly with nets) uneconomical, and some claimed to have stopped fishing as a result of the damage caused by seals. They have tried different approaches to reduce the level of interactions, but these seem to make little or no difference.

A stakeholder workshop brought together the commercial fishing, regulatory, academic and NGO sectors to review the latest research, discuss the problems and possible solutions, and explore options for at-sea trials to test a deterrent.

The Genuswave Targeted Acoustic Startle Technology deterrent device was selected for the at-sea trials currently underway in Torbay, in collaboration with two inshore net fishermen and the Devon and Severn Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority.

ABPmer’s Suzannah Walmsley, project manager, said:

“The Conservation of Seal Act (1970) dictates that other deterrents must be tried before the ‘netsmen’s defence’. However, when on a fishing vessel in open water, viable alternatives are limited.
“The trials are testing the effectiveness of a new acoustic deterrent that elicits an instinctive startle response in seals. Other acoustic deterrents that cause pain or discomfort were not available for use from vessels at sea, and they may be tolerated where food is available. This device uses seal-specific startle response triggers designed to reduce hearing damage to seals, and to limit noise impacts on other marine creatures while protecting fishermen’s catch.
“Initial results show promise, although further development work will likely be needed to fine-tune the deterrent and adapt it for easier deployment at sea with static net fisheries.”

The project is being implemented by ABPmer and NFFO for Defra and the Marine Management Organisation.

To read the Stakeholder Engagement report and the previous Literature and Data Review, visit GOV.UK.

For further information on this project, contact ABPmer's Suzannah Walmsley via email or call +44 (0)23 8071 1858.