Fishers in Langebaan are starting to feel like they are employed by the seals for free, with no salary and on top of it, they have to pay their own costs to get to work, according to Norton Dowries, vice chairperson of Coastal Links SA Langebaan Branch.
Dowries said that the seals have started to become a pest to the fishers for the last couple of years, and that they cause tremendous damage to the fishers’ gear and their catches.
“Seals have become one of the biggest problems experienced by our fishers, I will say they are destroyers, they chase the fish away, they destroy our nets,” said Dowries.
“They will follow you the whole night while you are fishing, and as soon as they see you caught something, they will be in your net to take their cut of your catch”.
Dowries said that they are not decent about it and take the fish out nicely, no, they will tear the net open and does not care whether they break it or not, as long as they get to their fry.
Dowries said that there were never seals in the Langebaan Lagoon, but that environmental factors and other human impact activities drove them into the lagoon.
For instance, the South African Army regularly does testing and let off under-water bombs, which is not pleasant to the seals, and they decided to move away from those grounds.
“The seals never lived off harders, but as their natural prey became unavailable, they changed their diet and started eating harders, which is found in the lagoon”.
“Their diet mainly consisted of pilchards and anchovies, but the big fishing trawlers are depleting this resource and the seals were forced to find an alternative diet”.
Dowries said that the seals used to live on the outskirts of the lagoon, around the seven islands like Dassen Island, Vondeling Island, Jutten Island, Meeuw Island, Schaapen Island, Marcus Island, Malgas Island and Klein Island.
Because these islands are out of sight of most of the tourists in Langebaan, many seals were culled around these islands, and Dowries believes that the seals also used the lagoon as a sanctuary where they could not be killed.
“They found a safe haven in the lagoon, away from the place where they were killed by humans.”
Dowries said that although many fishers adhere to the policies of the government that the seals must be protected, the burden on them has become too heavy, and that some fishers are seriously considering the option of killing them.
Another Fisher, Henry Blake said that to buy a new net, which often gets destroyed by the seals, sets the fishers back a good R2000, and then they have to have two nets on-board every time they go out fishing.
“When the nets get destroyed, fishers will have to cough up R2000, which eats deep into the money we earned from catches,” Blake commented.
“When the nets get broken, it takes a lot of time for us to repair it, luckily most of us are older fishermen, and we know how to repair the nets, but for those who do not know how to repair their nets will have to pay between R400-R450 to have their nets repaired.”
This is actually tragic, as many fishers regard the seals as intelligent animals, as Dowries explained.
“Every boat in the lagoon has their own three to four seals that accompany them. When you start your boats engine, your group of seals will know that their boat is ready to go fishing.”
Sometimes when the seals does not accompany a boat, Dowries said, they will be joined by a seal from another boat who might come fish near you, or who came to get something from you. So Dowries believes the seals just never leave you alone.
Fishers believe that the seals have come to stay, they are not leaving and are now starting to breed in the lagoon.
“We are starting to see young pups with the older seals, and they are so cute, you would not think about hurting them, but they cause so much damage,” commented George March another fisher from Langebaan.
The seals are not only a problem to the fishers, but also the holidaymakers and recreational fishers are starting to get problems with the seals, who would steal their fish off their lines and cause other damage.
These kinds of concerns were raised in numerous meetings and Dowries, Blake and March believes that it is time that a solution for the problem should be found.
The seals of Langebaan have come accustomed to human beings, and instead of fleeing when they hear the engines of the boats, they actually join the boats on their journeys.
“They have become very lazy, they do not fish for their food anymore. They make us fish for them,” laugh Dowries. “They sleep the whole day in the lagoon, and as soon as we start our engines, they follow us, and when we catch they fish, they just nicely take their ‘cut of the catch,” retorted March.
They have become like compliance inspectors; “… they will stand right next to our boats, take a peek into our boats to see how much fish we have caught,” continued Dowries.