Sealing our future: Coorong tourism at risk

Swimmers could be forced out of Lake Albert due to the abundance of New Zealand fur seals.
Swimmers could be forced out of Lake Albert due to the abundance of New Zealand fur seals.

SWIMMERS could be forced out of Lake Albert due to the abundance of New Zealand fur seals.

While June might not be the ideal time to go for a dip, come summer, seals could pose a real threat to lake users.

Coorong District Council had considered whether to install “do not swim” signs on the lake’s foreshore but decided against it, according to Mayor Neville Jaensch.

“Obviously we’re concerned because there is a level of risk to the community because they’re not used to dealing with the risk of seals,” he said.

“The problem is if we sign, where do we start and stop with the signage?”

The idea that people could be deterred from swimming in the lake has Meningie tourism operators concerned. 

Lake Albert Caravan Park owner Jacqui Grant said it would hinder their business.

“When it’s hot, everyone’s out in the water because it’s so shallow, they catch carp and it’s all good fun,” she said.

“If people couldn’t swim we’d certainly lose customers.”

The seals have been known to aggressively attack rare birds in the Coorong and could do the same to children swimming.

Meningie Sailing Club president Steve Starling had not seen any seals near the club, but said sailors would not be able to safely launch their boats or use the lake recreationally if seals started to appear.

Chaos was caused further upstream at Murray Bridge on Sunday with the ski racing state titles cancelled due to safety concerns for skiers and seals.

“The cost to the community because the event was cancelled has to be answered by somebody,” Mayor Jaensch said.

“The management of seals is not a council issue, even though we empathise with the businesses and fishers.

“This is something that needs to be treated; we believe the State Government should possibly be coming up with options on how to manage them.”

Large numbers of the seals have made the Coorong and Lower Lakes home since 2007. 

Coorong fishers have lobbied the State Government for relief, whether through a selective cull, lower or suspendable licence fees, less restrictive regulations or access to seal-scaring devices, but their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

State Environment Minister Ian Hunter said the management of fur seals was a complex issue but they were working with the fishing industry to reduce the impact of the seals on catches and nets. 

“The State Government has already stated that selective culling will not be considered and is unlikely to be effective as other seals would very quickly move into the area,” he said.

“The Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR) is developing a state-wide policy to guide the management of interactions between long-nosed fur seals and the marine industry, with input from other Government agencies including Primary Industries and Regions SA (PIRSA) and the fishing and aquaculture industry.

“As part of this approach industry, DEWNR, PIRSA and the South Australian Research and Development Institute are cooperating to undertake an assessment of the impacts of seal populations on the seafood industry in South Australia.”

MEMBER for Hammond Adrian Pederick is demanding the State Government prepare and implement an Overabun-dant Native Species Manage-ment Plan immediately for the New Zealand fur seals.

“Cultural rangers are having to euthanase pelicans with broken wings or with their legs torn off; injuries inflicted by the New Zealand fur seals,” he said.

“The seals get into tuna pens, damage fish, kill fish, and cost thousands of dollars in lost production of fish and in lost sales due to damage.

“We don’t need to decimate the fur seal population, but we do need to put an active management plan in place because the environment and fishing industry are suffering.”

He has started a petition calling on the State Government to take action, including a sustainable harvest of the fur seals. 

-Details: Copies of the petition can be signed and collected from Adrian Pederick’s office at 20 Mannum Road, Murray Bridge.