Young Torquay fisherman James Corbett's nets damaged by seal predation

Young Torquay fisherman James Corbett’s nets damaged by seal predation

A 14-year-old fisherman from Torquay has written to The Fishing Daily to highlight to authorities the daily frustration and heartbreak that he and his father is experiencing because of seal predation.

James Corbett is the next generation of fishers on the south west coast of England, but his future is being put in doubt due to the impact seals are having on both his family’s mental health and financial well-being.

James writes that himself and his father are suffering unsustainable daily losses due to the number of seals that are scrounging an easy days eating from their work.

Countryfile estimates that the harbour seal population around the UK coast is an estimated 33,400 and makes up 5% of the world’s population of harbour seals. The Wildlife Trusts has estimated the grey seal population at 120,000 making up 40% of the world’s grey seal population.

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The figures on seal populations are disputed right across the North Atlantic with fishers claiming the numbers of seals has exploded right across the seaboard. Although, there is controls in place in most coastal states, it doesn’t seem to be enough to manage the growing population.

The continuous public portrayal of seals as nice, fluffy, friendly and playful creatures is far from the true reality for fishermen living with the vicious scavenger. Rogue seals can cause having, injury and even death to sea users. The damage they do can cause huge financial losses and it is small inshore fishers that they prey on as their gillnets and pots are easy targets compared to larger boats with use mobile gear such as trawl nets.

Seal conservationists have called on fishers to use Acoustic Deterrent Devices on their fishing gear, but past experimentation found that pingers were ineffective against seals but a new generation of pingers have been developed that researchers claim are more effective in keeping the seals away from fishing gear..

The answer to deterring seals from ruining his fishing gear seems far-off for young James Corbett who writes:

“Hello, I’m James Corbett, a 14-year-old fisherman. All my family are fishermen. my dad bought a 20ft Atlantic fisher for inshore fishing, we do crab potting, we do lobster potting, cuttlefish potting, handlining for mackerel and pollock, netting for bass/mullet, mackerel, herrings, pilchards and many more. I am very good at my job and so is the rest of my family. It’s not just a job it’s a way of life!

I am writing to you because the seals are affecting our livelihood and mental health, they are tearing holes into our £300+ fishing nets by snatching the fish from the nets, being left heads and gill plates from the fish they savaged.

They are following the boat whilst you are hauling the lobster pots and when you bait them up and chuck the pots back over the rail the seals are diving down and taking the bait and leaving the flaps open so that the lobster and crabs can escape.

We are having them come into the cuttlefish traps and ripping the mesh and eating all the cuttlefish that are in the trap. We are having the seals come up and rip the mackerel off the hand line and one day we might get a seal foul hooked and it will dive right down to the seabed and someone will get dragged overboard and get seriously injured and maybe even drowned! 

We’re going out at 5am in the mornings in the freezing cold, windy weather for nothing! That’s not right, is it? 

We go out 15-60 miles offshore for bass and pollock and the seals are still out there! When you finally get your fish on the hook and have to reel it up 250ft the seal follows it up halfway and bites it in half.

You could go out and shoot a net 10 years ago and could guarantee 50-100 stone of fish, now you’re lucky to get 5 stone. It’s beyond a joke now.

It’s not only putting a massive dent in our pay check but our livelihood and mental health as well. 

I know several fishermen, who have sold all their fishing gear, because the seals have put the out of business.

There has to be a way to reduce the seal population! I’m not saying all seals, but a few. 

I want to carry my fishing generation on, and I know that there aren’t many young people like me coming into the fishing industry.

Many thanks, 

James Corbett.

A fisherman, fishing out of Torquay.”

Torquay fisherman highlights heartbreak and frustration of seal predation

by editor time to read: 7 min