Credit to Aoife Moore in the Examiner for this scoop:
The government is examining the potential for an “insane” pilot scheme to shoot seals with high-powered rifles from boats.
The scheme would see licenses granted potentially in Kerry and Cork to protect fishermen’s catches.
The latest population estimates available to government indicate that there are approximately 8,000-10,000 grey seals and about 5,000 harbour seals in Ireland.
According to Minister Darragh O’Brien, while seals are a protected species, the Department for Housing, Local Government and Heritage may issue licenses to “cull individual problem seals, and affected persons can apply for such licenses”.
The reasoning behind this is fairly simplistic: Seals eat fish. People also eat fish. If we shoot the seals, there will be more fish left for the people.
There are two problems with this, of course, as well as one argument in its favour: First: Seals have a perfect right to eat fish, given that they live in the sea, and are unlikely to take up vegetarianism. On purely moral grounds, it’s entirely wrong to punish seals for being hungry and eating the tastiest, fattest, fish they can find.
Second, it’s entirely inefficient, and probably cruel. The sea is quite big, boats are quite small, and shooting seals is an inexact science. You’d have to be a cracking shot to hit a seal in the head from a moving target, while the seal is also moving. Chances are, you’ll have a lot of vigilante fishermen taking pot shots at seals and either missing, or worse, hitting the seal in a way that doesn’t kill it instantly, or at all, leaving the seal to either starve from an inability to feed itself, or die a long, slow, painful death.
The argument for some form of seal cull is, of course, that in Irish waters, seals have no natural predators. But that’s not their fault, either. They’ve found an island with plenty of food, where nothing particularly wants to eat them in turn. And we want to shoot them for it? That’s just not fair play.
The other thing here, as the Irish Wildlife Trust says, is this:
There has long been a narrative that seals are to blame for poor fish catches but this can be blamed on chronic overfishing and destruction of marine habitats over recent decades.
“Fish populations have collapsed around our coastline from bottom trawling in particular. There has never been any evidence to suggest that shooting seals will address this problem.”
If fish stocks are really declining, is it more believable that it’s because the seals are eating them all, or because Irish waters are being chronically over-fished?
It’s not just Irish fishermen in Irish waters, remember. We allow Spanish supertrawlers, and French bottom trawlers, and, if they could sail far enough, we’d allow Latvian and Estonian fishing boats in here too. The biggest competition Irish fishermen face in Irish waters doesn’t come from the poor seal – it comes from European Fishermen who are entitled to fish away in Irish waters.
This is a problem that will become worse, too, if the British succeed in banning EU fishermen from their waters in a Brexit trade deal, which is one of their core aims.
We’re hardly going to issue licences for the shooting of individual Spanish fishermen, of course, so why are we issuing them for the shooting of individual seals?
There are, after all, potential policy solutions, at EU level, for over-fishing and competition for Irish fishermen. The Spaniards can, in theory, be negotiated with. The poor seals don’t even know that they’re doing anything wrong.
And it’s not just the fishermen with a stake in this, much as they doubtless feel that they have a grievance. Ireland’s wild Atlantic coast is one of our core tourist attractions. People come to Ireland to look at seals lying out on rocks. If we start shooting them while they’re lying out on rocks, or while they’re frolicking around in the sea, that will have an impact.
Consider, if you will, the impact on Canada’s reputation of the annual seal-clubbing expeditions they allow. Every year, that results in considerable protest and poor international media coverage.
Just wait until some environmentalist posts a video of the first seal to have had it’s flipper blown off by some fisherman who can’t shoot straight. This is a recipe to ruin Ireland’s international reputation.
It’s wrong morally, it’s wrong on the merits, and it’s bad policy, to boot.
So naturally, every party in the Dáil will support it.