Nam seal harvesting fizzles out

Windhoek – Namibia’s annual seal cull will drastically fall short of the set quota this year, “the lowest catch ever”, even as the nation says it is discovering new seal colonies extending into Angolan waters.

Seal harvesting in Namibia ends this week with only 25 854 pups having been clubbed to death for their fur, short of an annual quota of 80 000.

Namibia licences right holders to kill 80 000 baby seals through clubbing and 6 000 bulls by shooting them, during a harvesting season, which runs from July to November 15, seeking to profit from selling fur and adult male penises, an aphrodisiac in Europe and Asia.

“Looking at the decline in number of pups harvested, the trend would be same for bulls. We don’t expect the harvested seals number to be equivalent to the total allowable catch,” Charlie Matengu, Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources spokesperson said in an interview.

“The number of harvested seals has been gradually going down. This year’s would be lowest ever catch,” Matengu said.

Namibia, the second biggest hunter of seals behind Canada, last year harvested 51 464 pups and 3 968 bulls. In 2013, Namibia attributed the decline to right holders who did not have processing facilities.

“Seals are wild animals and even more difficult, they live close to water thus making it difficult to have a 100 percent harvest. It is the nature of operation that causes the fluctuation of harvested seals,” Matengu said.

“One thing is clear, the fluctuation of the number harvested per year, does not have anything to do with the seal population.”

Namibia says the animals are not harvested primarily because ‘they are a top predator in the Benguela ecosystem’. “That means, they must be consuming more food than other marine animals.” However, seal harvesting as a government policy, was not adopted “in order to attain balance in the ecosystem”.

“It is not the interest of the Namibian government to adopt a seal-culling system in order to attain balance in the ecosystem. Contrary to popular beliefs, in Namibia, seals are regarded as an exploitable marine resource where the government can derive both consumptive and non-consumptive economic gains and government policy is to exploit them on a sustainable basis,” Matengu said.

“The government harvesting plans is not cull oriented to create balance,” he added.

“It does not make sense to assume that the harvest is oriented in the sense of protecting fish stocks,” Matengu said. Namibia has previously argued that seals consume about 700 000 tonnes of fish annually and pose a threat to other fish stock. “Over hundreds of years, seals co-existed with fish species,” Matengu said.

Namibia could be experiencing a “seal population boom” though this is yet to scientifically authenticated.

Namibia’s seals are estimated at around 1.3 million with cows making up the largest population at 618 700 while bulls and pups are at 348 263 and 326 560, respectively.

“There could be significant increases in the population because we have observed the formation of new colonies,” he said.

Government scientists have recently discovered new breeding grounds for seals at Torra Bay, Mowe Bay Pelican Point, Sandwich Harbour and Tiger Bay in Angola. New colonies are continuously being discovered at Cape Cross, along Namibia’s Skeleton Coast, Matengu said. 

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