The burgeoning seal population off the coast of Maine has many fishermen wondering how much of their catch, and their profit, is becoming a free meal. While fishermen have observed that seals are targeting their nets, the scope of the problem and the impact on their earnings is much harder to ascertain.
GMRI intern Julia Knowles, a senior at the University of Maine, helped begin a project this summer that will assess and quantify the impacts of seal predation in the Gulf of Maine. By analyzing logs created by fishermen and officials, she examined the frequency and location of documented damage to catch.
"As a relatively new concern, the documentation of seal predation varies greatly among trip logs and observer reports, Knowles said. "By reviewing more than 500 documents, we identified significant loss of catch value for the fleet due to seal predation, valued at tens of thousands of dollars per annum or more."
The ongoing project is funded by the Northeast Groundfish Gear Conservation Engineering Network (GEARNET), a collaborative network designed to support gear research ideas generated by fishermen. By developing a profile for seal predation in the region, the project aims to anticipate and minimize seal interactions.