Wednesday, 27 February 2013

5th March Green Drinks - Sustainable Seas and Badgers

This month Irish Wildlife Trust Dublin Branch heard about the Irish Wildlife Trust's key campaigns for sustainable seas and an end to the cull of Irish badgers.

Sustainable Seas – a lot done more to do
Pádraic Fogarty, IWT Campaigns Officer, outlined the situation so far. The good news is that European fisheries ministers have agreed to end the practice of discards, the wasteful practice of fishermen being forced to throw away any fish they catch for which they do not have a quota. As much as 80% of what a fisherman can catch has to be discarded this way, so banning discards is a big step forward.

The devil is in the detail however, as there are still issues to be worked out. For example, paying fishermen for the discarded catch would create a market, leading to even more overfishing, so the best (or least worst) option is for the fisherman to simply 'donate' the fish free to the state for research. Also, a blanket ban on discards in all circumstances means that a fisherman would have to bring ashore protected species of fish that were still alive, instead of returning them to the sea.

Already the impact of the decision is being limited by the proposed ban only focussing on edible fish species, even though inedible marine life caught up in trawling can be equally important to a healthy marine environment. There has been significant progress towards ending overfishing since the IWT first started our Sustainable Seas campaign in 2010 – but we’re not there yet.

Typical net of a prawn fisherman -
everything that is not prawn has to be discarded
- even though it is most of the catch

Ireland's Badgers - fighting a losing battle?
Fintan Kelly explained the IWT's campaign to end the culling of badger in Ireland, which is meant to prevent BovineTb (Btb). Despite almost continuous culling of badgers for many years, the level of bovine Tb remains stubbornly high. Fintan explained how the level fluctuated more with the intensity of farm inspections than with any change in badger culling, yet despite this the IWT faces an uphill struggle to convince the government to change course in favour of a vaccination programme.

Government lack of action is partly due to hostility from farmers, who are firmly in favour of culling, and partly because trying to achieve pressure at EU level has so far proven to be ineffective.This is despite  Ireland's total disregard for the Bern convention, the failure of the Bern Standing Committee to carry out its mandate to protect the badger, and how the issue is being tackled by our nearest neighbours.

Fintan gave an example of how the Bern convention is being disregarded. While the convention does allow a protected species to be culled if it is a threat to agriculture, it specifies that this must be done with the minimum disturbance to the species. Yet despite this badger culling in Ireland continues all year round, even in breeding season, meaning that adult badgers are being caught, leaving their young to die of starvation underground.

At present 6,000 snares are set for badgers every night. The snares are legal because they do not kill the badger (usually), but they can cause injuries and do cause distress. Hours later in the morning the trapper then comes and shoots the badger. The war on Btb and badgers has always been an emotive issue. It has pitted farmers and conservationists against each other since Btb was first discovered in badgers in the early seventies and no early resolution is in sight.

Badger by Jaroslav Vogeltanz