Seals workshop collage Seals workshop

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Stakeholders meet to solve fisheries and seals interaction issue

While seals impact on fisheries, fisheries also impact on seals through bycatch in operational fishing gear and entanglement in lost gear and use of lethal methods. As part of our work for Defra and the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) we hosted a workshop to discuss the issue and to explore options for non-lethal seal deterrents.


Fishing activity and seals share fish resources and overlap spatially, resulting in interaction and conflict. Depredation (feeding on fishermen’s catches) by seals has economic costs to the fishing industry through loss of catches and damage to fishing gear.

While seals impact on fisheries, fisheries also impact on seals through bycatch in operational fishing gear and entanglement in lost gear and use of lethal methods. The current situation is undesirable e.g. losses to fishermen and to seal populations suggesting a common interest to attempt change.

As part of our work for Defra and the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) to support regulatory advice on fisheries and seals interactions, ABPmer hosted a workshop to discuss the issue and to explore options for non-lethal seal deterrents.

The workshop brought together representatives from the commercial fishing, regulatory, academia and NGO sectors. The objectives of the workshop were to:

  • review the latest research and knowledge on seal-fishery interactions
  • consider the issues from different perspectives (fisheries/NGOs/regulators and policy makers); and
  • explore possible solutions and options for at-sea trials under the project.

There was open and frank discussion, and participants showed a constructive approach to the problem and a willingness to work together. The workshop highlighted that the increasing seal populations were problematic for fishermen, who are losing part of their catch to damage by seals, and that they consider that the rescuing and release of seals by sanctuaries is contributing to the problem.

The main conclusions from the workshop were:

  1. Recent developments in acoustic deterrent devices (ADDs) are encouraging; low frequency startle technology shows promise in reducing habituation, hearing damage and effects on non-target species while the lower source levels and shorter duty cycles reduce underwater noise.

  2. All groups preferred testing the ADDs in the at-sea trials. Fishing tactics and avoidance measures were not considered feasible, as all options have been tried by fishermen and not been successful in the long term. However, commonly-used fishing tactics could be collated and shared amongst industry.

  3. Devices could be deployed in several ways including from vessels and on fishing gears, although the latter may require further research and development.

  4. There is a need to engage, build trust and create dialogue between different parties to ensure different perspectives on the issue are integrated in any potential management solution or policy.

  5. There is an ongoing need for further research, including into: seal diet, behaviour and population dynamics; the extent, scale and type of interactions between seals and fisheries, the type of damage caused by seals, and differences between species (grey vs. harbour seals); and individual depredation behaviour, levels of depredation, and deterrent technology. The at-sea trials may contribute to the evidence on some of these issues.

The next steps of the project are to design the at-sea trials, and take these forward in collaboration with the fishing industry in spring 2019.

Prepared by Suzannah Walmsley, Fisheries Specialist