NOTE TO THE DELICATE(and my Mammy): Here be pictures of dead animals as well as swears, though they be swathed in asterisks……
I have used the words ‘Fisherman’ and ‘Fishermen’ throughout. I know there are female fisher people but they tend to be in the minority.
UPDATE 5/2/17 to include information from the IWDG website regarding causes in the Ardmore strandings and others.
During the week three seals and a porpoise washed up dead on Ardmore beach, killed by fishing nets which still marked the animals bodies. Christy Parker in The Irish Examiner says the deaths were likely caused by pair trawling, that is two trawlers pulling a net that indiscriminately catches everything in its way*.
At least one of the seals had suffered blood loss and seemed to have died while trying to free fishing net wrapped tightly around its mouth. The other mammals may, at some stage, have been entangled in nets (Irish Examiner, 11/01/2017).
*The IWDG (Irish Whale & Dolphin Group) has since offered the opinion that it was gillnets rather than pair trawling that caused these deaths (IWDG, 2017).
It’s not unusual to see posts about stranded and dead animals on my social media but the thread of comments from local fisher folk underneath a post about these animals was so laced with vitriol that it was particularly arresting. Seals were repeatedly referred to as ‘c**ts’ who deserved all they got. The land lovers (sic) whom expressed sadness or anger at the event were treated to ridicule. Emoticons depicting glee at the seals deaths were bandied about and liked with abandon.
Putting aside the unfortunate porpoise and the dolphins and odd otter that get tangled or hauled up, you may divine that there is a hatred of seals in the fishing community in Ireland. As the fishing stocks fall, seals are the scapegoats, accused of eating the fisherman’s livelihood and of damaging fishing gear. While their natural or accidental deaths are celebrated they are often the target for more deliberate attacks. A few years ago, in the same week a dolphin and another seal were found dead, a couple of seals were washed up on the main beach in Tramore suffering gunshots wounds. They died on the beach to the distress of those who came upon them. The culprits were not caught.
I imagine seals, if they could talk, would also be swearing blue murder about their livelihood being eaten but fortunately for fishermen seals can’t talk nor do they have guns to defend themselves. This puts the people who would defend the seals in the sight line. There’s a generally held belief that environmentalists of all stripes are unrealistic, irrational hippies who spend their lives wrapped in cotton wool. Those on the sea might tell us they are more in touch with ‘real life’, that while we are tucked up warm in our beds full of money they are navigating the ‘Perfect Storm’ on a daily basis receiving only lolly pop sticks as recompense. It doesn’t seem to occur to the fisherman that his job is not the only one that is not secure and that expecting security and fair wages has become a fantastical delusion for many of us. Those who want to cling to the past, who want to continue to catch the same amount of fish their grandfathers caught while the world fishing stocks are being depleted seem to me to be a lot more unrealistic than any hippy environmentalist or blue-collar worker tucked up in their bed of imaginary money.
I have been an artist all my life, a ‘job’ which is often seen as a soft number. I’ve worked all sorts of jobs to stay afloat. As a teenager in a seaside town I worked 7 day weeks throughout every summer. Since then I have worked twelve-hour shifts through the night in bright noisy factories and rat infested warehouses sorting flower bulbs or building and painting sets, the skin hanging off my hands in ribbons while I shivered in sub-zero temperatures for little money. I have woken up at 4am to clean offices for people who would deliberately leave coffee stains in hidden places so they could complain about me after which I would go onto to my minimum wage shop job to stand for 9 hours in a row (no lunch break) being abused by random customers. I have worked in bars, making and serving food, scrubbing floors and toilets and dealing with rowdy stag parties. I would channel much of my spare money back into my art which people often want me to give them for free. I have continually updated my skills through my own efforts and at my own expense and will continue to do so until I die. All of this is not to complain but just to point out that I, and many others, don’t expect, or get handed to them, life on a plate. We expect to have to adapt to the changes the world throws at us. It is not easy, I can’t pretend I don’t get bitter and feel like bandying blame about but I have managed to go for years without calling some animal going about its business a c**t or trying to blow out its brains in the belief that it will fix everything.
This not to say I don’t feel for the average fisherman, I do. This whole country has suffered setbacks. Our oil rights, which could have benefited our communities, especially our coastal ones, have been sold out from under us while our fishing rights are a knotty issue about which there are more than few arguments. Some feel we sold our rights and our fishermens livelihood in return for structural funding from the EU which was either worth it or not worth it according to who you are talking to. Others claim our fishing fleet, once small, has been boosted by those very funds and contributed to over fishing and all the while our waters have been opened to boats from other nations. Quotas meant to protect result in fish being dumped. Indeed there are so many factors involved it seems batty to blame the dearth of fish on seals while there are Super Trawlers hoovering up everything with a gill along our coast. Or to seek to solve it all by swearing at everyone.
After all that, not being overly sentimental, I would not object to seal culls, especially if they were carried out humanely, if it was proven to be advantageous. Certainly a controlled intelligent cull is far preferable to inept idiots taking potshots at seals and leaving them to die slow, distressing deaths to no appreciable advantage. Still, the Irish Wildlifes Trusts position is that culls must be resisted as it is no solution and you can see their point: if the problem is over fishing by man rather than by hordes of gluttonous Super Seals, then we could sacrifice a whole species to avoid facing the problem of over fishing. As to the damage to fishing gear the same logic applies:to stop damage to gear by culling, all seals would have to be wiped out and then what would be to blame for wear and tear? It would seem more logical for people to work toward developing seal proof gear. But then I’m only a land lover (sic). Anyway killing seals is currently illegal, whatever your opinion.
Protecting the environment is a practical way forward. The only resources left to us in Ireland that we as individuals can possibly impact with our actions on a day-to-day basis are our environment and our culture. Handled properly we could attract revenue streams from a huge variety of visitors. The English Coastal Path for instance, opening in 2020, is expected to generate a lot of revenue. In the Guardian of December 26th, 2015..
The South West Coast Path alone is thought to generate around £300m a year, supporting more than 7,500 jobs, while it has been estimated that, for every £1 spent on the Pembrokeshire coastal path, £57 is generated in tourist spending.
In Dumfries and Galloway one trail for the viewing of Red Kites generated GBP8.2 million in its first decade and supports 21 full time jobs annually.
But who would come here to walk if the cliffs were industrialised, the sea was empty and the birds all gone? (Oh yes, like many of our fishermen who dream the seal out of existence, our farmers want our skies free of birds. Why is it that those who claim to be most at one with their environment want everything in it dead?).
Some might say that many fishermen do not desire the death of the seal or the culture of polarization that stymies constructive solutions. Unfortunately, as is often the case, it is the loud and aggressive minority that will determine the direction of the conversation. Many of us in Ireland support, or would like to support, the fishing (and farming) industry as well as the proper husbanding of our resources but that support will erode the more those industries expect everything on their terms while refusing to deal with the posturing of their loudest mouths.
To call animals c**ts because you have invaded their environment and threatened their lives is ignorant. To sneer at those who are concerned with the development of our environment for the physical, mental, emotional, cultural and fiscal betterment of our country is short-sighted. Hating those who would protect our remaining resources because you hate how our resources have not been protected is irrational. Cheering the deaths of animals online and abusing people because you think it will make life better is the action of a gobshite who is contributing to a future that is more of the same.
I have always loved to see the lights of the fishing boats on the water at night, to think of those small communities of people out there in cramped, difficult and dangerous conditions. I have been humbled by their vulnerability and inspired by their courage in the face of this vast and unpredictable world but the day is coming when I will see those lights and think…
‘There’s a lot of c**ts out there tonight…’
…before closing the curtains and turning away.
IWDG, (2017), Causes of Deaths of Porpoise and Seals Washed up at Ardmore, Co. Waterford, [online], available at http://www.iwdg.ie/news/?id=2676