By Ellen O’Riordan
Ballina councillors have today agreed to send a letter to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine calling for a cull of seals in Killala Bay.
In a Ballina Municipal District council meeting Cathaoirleach Michael Loftus called for a cull of the mammals, which he believes are contributing to the loss of wild Atlantic salmon in the River Moy.
“These seals would kill salmon or sea trout sometimes just for fun, other times to eat it,” he said, adding that they are “killing all that is good about the River Moy.”
The Fianna Fáil Councillor, who is also a member of the Grainne Uaile Sub Aqua Search and Recovery Unit, said he had noticed approximately 150 seals in and around Bartragh Island, in Killala Bay, while out on a search last weekend.
He said the loss of salmon in the Moy is affecting fishing tourism, which in turn harms the local economy.
“A lot of people are complaining that you cannot get Moy salmon in a restaurant and that it is all farmed salmon,” he added.
Fine Gael Councillor Jarlath Munnelly seconded the call for a cull, saying many fishermen agree the seals are an issue.
He said there is no doubt that the species is at the “top of the food chain” in the area, and an “orderly” cull would protect the dwindling fish stock.
“We won’t eliminate the seals- no chance of that- but it is about re-balancing the ecosystem, and wild salmon are under threat,” he added.
Independent Councillor Seamus Weir was more apprehensive, suggesting the council would be considered “the worst in the world” to the environmentalists and Greens.
However, he expressed his displeasure at a Go Vegan billboard placed on the approach to the Salmon Capital. The advertisement bears a picture of a large silver fish and states: “Fish are unnecessary for human health. Eat Plants instead.”
River Moy Manager for Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI), Declan Cooke said it is “probably a bit unfair to pick on seals” when human activity is the “most prominent” reason for the decline in salmon stock.
He said seals are “just one piece of what is impacting salmon”, and climate change has also contributed to a certain amount of the reduction. The IFI would not support a cull as seals are part of the “natural fauna”, he said. However, he would encourage a “seal census”, as well as a management scheme based on fresh scientific research.