Fishermen treated as second class citizens

OPINION: After Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae called for a major cull of seals, to prevent further losses being incurred by fishermen, it is being claimed that disaffected fishermen have been denied fair procedure. Here Dr Ciarán Crummey (pictured) who, as a researcher for an Bord Iascaigh Mhara, worked on the problems caused by seals during the 1990s, suggests the proper way to proceed

DEPUTY Michael Healy-Rae has called for a seal cull, as posted on on February 22. Over 20 years ago a senior politician told me that calling for a seal cull was something that he was happy to do while in opposition, but that his party would never act on if in power. It hasn’t mattered which party has been in power since then.

Grey seals have been causing problems for passive fisheries, in particular setnet fisheries, since the 1980s. In that time virtually nothing has been achieved that has helped to reduce losses to seals. In fact the opposite has occurred.

In that time the grey seal population has grown exponentially at around seven per cent per year. Today grey seals are hunted everywhere throughout their natural range, except in Ireland. They are hunted on both sides of the Atlantic – in Canada, Iceland, Norway, Russia, the Baltic countries and even the UK.

There has been a call for a major seal cull to protect fishermen’s livelihoods

Research findings confirmed the problem were suppressed by the state during the 1990s. The problem was denied during the next decade. It was ignored until around 2010. It has officially been acknowledged to exist only since then.

A number of non-lethal methods have been recommended but none have been found that have worked.

There are important gaps in the research that has been carried out. Nowhere has the relatively simple question of testing the relationship between the numbers of seals, passive fishing boats and their losses been researched and published. The research that has been needed has not been carried out.

By now the responsible state agencies have amply demonstrated that they are unwilling and unable to support what needs to be done. Since they are all politically controlled, this is perhaps not surprising.

The disaffected fishermen have been denied fair procedure, something that every citizen of the state is entitled to. Meanwhile, livelihoods continue to be threatened or destroyed because of the problem. The right to make a living is another fundamental right of every citizen.

By comparing how Irish fishermen have been treated with their counterparts elsewhere, and with those who have been adversely affected by land based wildlife conflicts nationally, it can now be shown that the disaffected have been discriminated against by the state and treated as second class citizens.

A new, fresh approach to this is needed if any progress is to be made in the foreseeable future. Would Deputy Michael Healy-Rae consider taking this matter up directly with a view to obtaining a formal commitment from a party that it would act on it if in power? Such a step would represent the first real progress in dealing with this matter in decades.

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