Spatial Overlap of Grey Seals and Fisheries in Irish Waters, Some New Insights Using Telemetry Technology and VMS
Seals and humans often target the same food resource, leading to competition. This is of mounting concern with fish stocks in global decline. Grey seals were tracked from southeast Ireland, an area of mixed demersal and pelagic fisheries, and overlap with fisheries on the Celtic Shelf and Irish Sea was assessed. Overall, there was low overlap between the tagged seals and fisheries. However, when we separate active (e.g. trawls) and passive gear (e.g. nets, lines) fisheries, a different picture emerged. Overlap with active fisheries was no different from that expected under a random distribution, but overlap with passive fisheries was significantly higher. This suggests that grey seals may be targeting the same areas as passive fisheries and/or specifically targeting passive gear. There was variation in foraging areas between individual seals suggesting habitat partitioning to reduce intra-specific competition or potential individual specialisation in foraging behaviour. Our findings support other recent assertions that seal/fisheries interactions in Irish waters are an issue in inshore passive fisheries, most likely at the operational and individual level. This suggests that seal population management measures would be unjustifiable, and mitigation is best focused on minimizing interactions at nets.