Long-nosed fur seals remain an issue in Lower Lakes and Coorong

WELL-FED: Long Nosed Fur Seals are causing damage to the wildlife and native birds in the Coorong and this one is on top of the Goolwa Barrage. Photo: Ben Kelly.
WELL-FED: Long Nosed Fur Seals are causing damage to the wildlife and native birds in the Coorong and this one is on top of the Goolwa Barrage. Photo: Ben Kelly.

The impact of long-nosed fur seals on fisheries in the Lower Lakes and Coorong has been a growing concern for over a decade, and local businesses are continuing to feel the effects.

Since seals arrived in the Coorong in 2007, local fishing operators and Traditional Owners have faced difficulties in maintaining their operations, with reports of seals consuming up to 400 tonnes of fish a day, as well as destroying fishing equipment.

Meningie-based fishing and processing business Coorong Wild Seafood, is one such company losing out to seals and business owner Tracy Hill said more needed to be done.

"The seals are continuing to have an enormous impact on our ability to catch fish," Ms Hill said.

"Things haven't improved and in fact this year, there appears to be more seals than this time in previous years.

"It's making it very, very hard to catch any fish at the moment.

"This issue combined with the affects of COVID-19, are making things hugely difficult for us."

For the last five years, the Department of Environment and Water (DEW) has been actively monitoring the situation and conducting regular seal counts in the northern lagoon of the Coorong.

According to DEW, counts suggest long-nose fur seal abundance has remained similar over a four year period (2015-2019) and reflects the seasonal variation typically observed in coastal water.

The most recent count carried out on May 5, 2020 recorded 37 seals in the survey area, a comparable number to counts recorded in May in previous years.

The highest number of seals counted peaked at 192 and 157 in July 2016 and June 2018, respectively and numbers have dropped as low as five in November 2015 and December 2018.

A DEW spokesperson said a majority of South Australia's long-nosed fur seal population inhabits offshore and oceanic waters, but in winter months the numbers using coastal waters tends to increase.

"Since 2015, DEW has led a working group made up of representatives from government, the fishing industry and the Coorong community which looks at ways to reduce the impact of seals on the Coorong fishery," the spokesperson said.

"DEW is currently working in partnership with SARDI, the Southern Fishermen's Association and PIRSA on a SARDI led Fisheries Research and Development Corporation funded research project to assess the impacts of seals on commercial fishers and the Lower Lakes and Coorong ecosystem.

"The research will provide a better understanding of the economic impacts of the seals on the fishery and the ecological impacts of seals on the lakes and Coorong ecosystem."

Ms Hill said that research was well and good, but in the short term, it did nothing to help the businesses struggling to survive.

"If any other industry was experiencing what we are, no one would be saying 'let's go and do some more research'," Ms Hill said.

"People could go broke before any of this research is completed.

"Another project and report could take three years and there are people in this fishery who may not survive another season.

"We need to find some way to keep the seals out of the Murray Mouth.

"Catches for us are down and at the moment, it's often cheaper to stay at home rather than bother going out."

DEW's spokesperson said the department undertakes monthly surveys and provides training and permits, on request, for commercial fishers wishing to use seal control units (seal crackers) to manage the species' impacts.

While culls have been proposed by numerous groups in the past, DEW is currently prioritising research.

"Long-nosed fur seals are native to South Australia and are protected under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972," the DEW spokesperson said.

"Knowledge gained from the current research project will help all stakeholders in managing seal impacts and will be crucial in informing future management decisions."

This story Long-nosed fur seals remain an issue in Lower Lakes and Coorong first appeared on The Times.