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Fishermen want seal population culled -

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Fishermen want seal population culled

Reporter: Jocelyn Nettlefold

KERRY O'BRIEN: Fed up with losing their catch and millions of dollars fishermen are demanding the
Federal Government review its policy on seal management.

After being hunted to the brink of extinction in the 1800s, Australian fur seals are thriving under
legal protection and a diminishing threat from predatory sharks.

The population around Bass Strait has been boosted in the past few years by an increase in New
Zealand fur seals, breeding in South and Western Australia.

They're smart, occasionally aggressive and know where to get an easy feed, in the process wreaking
havoc in some fisheries and intensifying an expensive headache for fish farmers.

Some fishermen believe some form of culling is overdue, but industry is hoping a well-funded
scientific inquiry will finally come up with ways to defuse the increasing conflict at sea.

This report from Jocelyn Nettlefold.

MARK CUTHBERTSON, FISHERMAN: We noticed as the fishery progressed that the seals began targeting
banded morwong boats and they identified them and waited for those boats because they were a
regular supply of food.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: Mark Cuthbertson works alone under the cliffs of the Tasman peninsula, setting
his nets to catch banded morwong.

But holding onto his daily catch is usually a battle, as seals strike and empty his nets.

MARK CUTHBERTSON: This one's not been taken for food because when the seals eat them for food, they
take out this section of the body only.

This one's just been bitten in half so the seal can play with it.

The problem is, of course, this fish, if it was on the market, it would be worth $100.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: Eight years ago Mark Cuthbertson's business was booming.

He was employing three staff and shipping about 250 kilo of live fish to interstate markets every
10 days.

But these days, business is marginal, thanks to the seals who've learnt those nets mean an easy
feed.

MARK CUTHBERTSON: Earlier on, we were more concerned about the loss of catch, of course.

It got to 60 per cent, which is a huge amount of our catch to lose, but, as the seals became more
used to being around us, they became more aggressive and that became a real problem for us because
we have no way of protecting ourselves in a small boat like this.

You know, if a seal tries to board you, you are in a lot of trouble.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: It's not only wild fisheries struggling.

Fish farmers are also under attack from aggressive seals.

MARK RYAN, TASSAL: Yeah, we've had a guy who's needed 30 stitches in his calf because a seal had
attacked him from behind and then we've had nightwatchmen where they've have been chased up on top
of their wheelhouse.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: Such showdowns are increasing, particularly in Victorian and Tasmanian waters.

In the past decade, the Australian fur seal population has risen from about 80,000 to 90,000 and
colonies of New Zealand fur seals are booming in South Australia and in the west.

BOB PENNINGTON, AUST SEAFOOD INDUSTRY COUNCIL: In 20 to 30 years, the numbers of seals will double
or treble.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: It's not just the numbers that's got the fishermen worried, it's the difficulty
they have trying to keep seals away from fish stock.

According to Mark Ryan, chief executive of TASSAL, an Atlantic salmon producer, seals are becoming
harder to outwit.

MARK RYAN: They've got a skull and brain size exactly the same as an Alsatian and Alsatians are
quite a smart animal and they learn new tricks and they teach the pups those tricks, so each year
you've got to go that one step further to stop them from getting into your pen.

DAVID PEMBERTON, BIOLOGIST: Basically, it takes something like four years for seals to find a
fishery.

When they find it, learn about it, they hammer it.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: TASSAL spends up to $10 million a year on seal management, including hundreds
of relocations.

Tasmania's Parks & Wildlife Department has carted 1,000 seals around the state in the past year,
many nicknamed regulars.

Tracking of those unwanted guests shows about a fifth of those captured simply don't get the hint.

They return within days.

MARK RYAN: We've had seals come back as much as 16 times and each time they come back, they get
that little bit more aggressive.

For the recidivous seals, I think there needs to be some sort of cull program where you do take
them out.

We're only talking about five to 10 seals.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: The peak industry body will seek special funding from the Federal Government
for research into how to beat the seals.

Mindful of public sensitivity about killing seals, the Seafood Industry Council's Bob Pennington
says culling is not on the agenda despite mounting pressure from some members.

BOB PENNINGTON: We certainly wouldn't entertain that without further research being done.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: Wildlife authorities say any form of culling the protected species is not yet
warranted.

ALEX SCHAAP, TASMANIA PARKS & WILDLIFE: I think society as a whole probably doesn't believe that
that's a reasonable use for our mammalian wildlife and secondly that there is no evidence to
suggest that that will have any benefit.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: Biologist Dr David Pemberton spends each summer counting pups in Bass Strait
breeding colonies.

He believes that if more research was focused on seal behaviour around fisheries, it would give
fishermen the upper hand against repeat offenders.

DAVID PEMBERTON: You can throw money at it, but if you don't look at the absolute specifics of the
interaction you're going to be throwing money down the drain.

MARK CUTHBERTSON: The seal issue is the one that's going to decide whether this fishery survives or
not.

But I mean it's spilling into other fisheries now as well.

The cray fishermen are now also recognising that they've got a problem.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: Mark Cuthbertson doubts whether those wised up animals vying for his catch can
be controlled.

MARK CUTHBERTSON: But when you start getting dangerous seals, like the ones we've got, well, they
simply must be destroyed.

I mean, it wouldn't be tolerated in any other industry.

MARK CUTHBERTSON: Yet scientists say there's no evidence from other countries that culling would
make any difference.

DAVID PEMBERTON: I think you've got to go to the absolute interactive problem right down to the
nitty gritty and then step back for your solutions.

Culling is the stand back, sitting in the office type solution.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Jocelyn Nettlefold with that report.

(c) 2006 ABC