Fur seals in conflict with fishing tradition and livelihoods in South Australia's Coorong

Long-nosed fur seals have bounced back along the South Australian coast from near extinction by sealers between 1800 and 1830.
Image courtesy Canoe the Coorong

Long-nosed fur seals (Arctocephalus forsteri), native to Australia and New Zealand, started creating turmoil in the South Australia’s Coorong lagoon from 2007. About 100,000 seals are all along the South Australian coast in the 21st Century after being hunted to near extinction by sealers between 1800 and 1830.

Fishers and the Ngarrindjeri people, traditional owners of the Lower Murray lakes, the Coorong and surrounding areas, have both been impacted by the modern arrival of seals in the Coorong. The fur seals, as apex outside predator in the Coorong and Lower Lakes, are decimating the native fish populations. Native birdlife is also under attack.

The state government has tried methods to deter the seals from destroying the Coorong fishing industry. These have included using underwater crackers to scare the seals away and nets up about 600 metres long. Temporary arrangements were made to provide financial relief to fishers who in many cases are losing all their catch to the seals. A federal-seat  parliamentarian in 2019 urged the South Australian government to authorise a sustainable cull of the fur seal in the interests of the environment.

The depth of the problem was reflected in a working group meeting regularly in 2019 to discuss action needed. It included from the state environment and water department, PIRSA (state department of primary industries and regions, South Australia) and its South Australian Research and Development Institute, the South Australian Museum, local government, Southern Fishermen’s Association, SA Tourism, SA Water and the Conservation Council of South Australia.

Long-nosed fur seal numbers in coastal waters fluctuate during the year, peaking over winter and decline in the leadup to breeding season in December, as animals spend more time in outer shelf and oceanic waters up to 1000 kilometres off the coast.

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