Rogue anglers may shoot protected seals that are decimating fish stocks in a Co Down river if the government doesn’t take steps to relocate them, the Green Party has warned.
The seals have been getting into the Quoile River via a damaged fish pass for a number of years and, it was suggested, eating as much as 10 pounds of fish apiece each day.
This week Leisure Minister Caral Ni Chuilin revealed in a reply to a written Assembly question by Green Party MLA Steven Agnew that her officials have asked the Rivers Agency, which owns the Quoile barrier, to undertake a survey and carry out remedial work.
She added that her department does not have the specialist knowledge and equipment to remove the seals that would then be left trapped behind the repaired barrier.
“Seals are a protected species under the Wildlife Order and the Quoile area is a designated Nature Reserve managed by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA),” she said.
“DCAL can take no action in relation to seals without the approval of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and the department does not have the specialist knowledge and equipment to remove the seals.”
A Green Party spokesman said fish stocks in the river have been badly damaged by a combination of seals and a high biochemical oxygen demand in the waters.
“The combination of the two are decimating the fish stocks in the Quoile which anglers have worked for years to repopulate,” he said.
“It seems, following the Assembly question from the Department, that it is the Rivers Agency's remit to repair the fish pass and they have been requested to carry out a survey with the purpose of doing this.
“This repair work is absolutely vital because even if the seals are safely removed from the Quoile they will only make their way back in if the fish pass is not repaired. And a rather worrying consideration is that a very small rogue element would be prepared to shoot the seals if a solution is not forthcoming.”
Trevor Love, chairman of Down District Coarse Anglers, said anglers had no wish to see the seals killed.
“We just want them out of the system — they shouldn’t be in there,” he said.
“DCAL stocked the river with 40 pike a few weeks ago, but all they are doing is feeding the seals. The ministry has probably spent hundreds restocking the trout fishery. One seal can get through 10lb of fish a day and the biggest fish in there is half to one lb. So over days, months, years, that is some amount of fish. The Quoile used to be the best river in Ireland for fishing pike and perch.”
A Northern Ireland Environment Agency spokesman said: “The key is finding out how the seals are entering the river. There has been consultation between DoE and DCAL as to determine the possible entry points. If it is confirmed that the entry point is at the barrier there is the possibility of NIEA installing an acoustic deterrent which may deter the seals from entering the barrier.”