AN underwater explosive cracker, the size of a 12-gauge shotgun shell, is the latest weapon for Coorong fishermen to deter seals stealing their catches and damaging fishing nets.
With a sand weight and a five to seven second fuse, the crackers can be deployed by fishermen, creating an underwater shockwave to “turn seals around”, reducing fish losses and equipment damage.
The Department of Environment, Water and Resources confirmed the usage of crackers for fishermen who had undertaken the required training, a police clearance and SafeWork SA permit to purchase the crackers.
It comes after two years of fisherman battling their livelihoods with the increasing seal population.
The crackers are expected to be in use by late January.
But at $3.50 a pop, Southern Fishermen’s Association chairperson Garry Hera-Singh said fishermen would not be using them “willy-nilly”.
“We’re just desperate, we’re looking for anything that will help us,” he said.
“The research by SARDI aquatic sciences as clearly indicated that if a seal is engaged with taking a fish out of the net, nothing will shift it.”
The state government invested $100,000 into research, with the study on underwater crackers completed in June 2016.
About 6000 crackers have been provided as a ‘starting stock’ for the fishery, with the Southern Fishermen’s Association to coordinate the distribution.
Commercial fishers will be required to return a usage log that documents the level of interaction with seals, fishing equipment and the reaction of seals once the crackers are deployed.
Despite the Coorong playing host to some of the healthiest fish stocks he had seen in the past two decades, Mr Hera-Singh said fishermen were unable to capitalise on the abundance of fish due to the sheer numbers of seals.
He said the seal numbers during summer usually declined, but this summer, there appeared plenty remained.
“Most of them are sexually immature so they haven’t gone back to Kangaroo Island to pup, (instead) they’ve just stayed because they are getting a free meal and there are no predators,” Mr Hera-Singh said.
“If the crackers turn out to be a failure, then we have to seriously start looking at industrial sized pingers and population management control.”