Seal Cull

seal cull, by john lister-kayeAuthor’s introduction for Seal Cull.

In October 1978 the Labour government of the day gave in to pressure from the fishing industry to mount a cull of grey seals in the Orkney Islands, one of the greatest concentrations of breeding grey seals in UK waters.  A Norwegian firm was contracted to shoot the seals on land, both pregnant cows and pups, and to remove the carcasses for commercial processing – mostly pet food.

Was it true that grey seals were costing the fishing industry £25 million a year?  Or, as it was claimed by Greenpeace, was it the fishing industry and the government trying to shift the blame for declining fish stocks onto seals?

Excerpts from the book:

Seal Cull - The Grey Seal Controversy John Lister-Kaye

Conservation is a principle which our world needs more and more as we continue to overcrowd and overpressure our fragile earth. The seal row is a conflict within conservation, and, for that reason, it is a crucial issue. More than ever before it is vital that the outcome of this controversy should be a rational and ordered solution for fish, man and seals. If it is permitted to become a sore of discontent the damage could be worldwide and pervasive. If the reader is looking for a clear-cut answer he will be disappointed; conservation is one of the most complex uncertainties in the history of man's relationship with his environment, and no author is in any position to produce clear-cut answers. Rather, it is hoped that by stimulating debate and reassessment of facts, motives and actions, at least the true issues will become clearer and better understood.
Conservation - Killing and Cruelty

P20 - P21

Since man first stepped out of the principal forest he has been a hunter and a fisherman. As well as his food he has needed wood for his fire, minerals for his tools and implements, and skins for his clothing. He still needs all these today, although along the way he has learned much about wise and unwise exploitation of the earth's resources, animal, vegetable and mineral. Farming was one of the first forms of conservation, because as man's population grew he realized that sooner or later he would run out of wild food plants and it was both practicable and necessary to help nature to produce sufficient for him. He was, for the first time, controlling his environment and managing its potential resource.

Before long, wild animals ventured out from the forest edge to sample the abundance of food plants growing in our primitive farmer's allotment. In anger and despair at the damage inflicted on his crop our hunter-farmer massacred the marauding animals by a concentrated hunt through the surrounding forest and he set traps for any foolish enough to venture back again. He had come into conflict with his fellow animals for the first time and he had to kill them not as a primary food source but as a control measure to protect his own livelihood.
For thousands of years the rapidly increasing numbers of men on earth have been driving the wild animals back into the forests and felling trees to expand their food-growing area to meet the needs of a larger population of men. We are still doing it, and it is a relatively new concept of land and animal management even to allow wild things to exist at all in conflict with man's interests.


Seal Cull ‘The grey seal controversy is objectively investigated by John Lister-Kaye in Seal Cull (Penguin, 95p) from a tangled mass of scientific papers, statistics and speculation. It is essential reading for anyone interested in man’s relationship with wildlife the world over’. 
Evening Advertiser, Swindon  6 Sept 1979

‘The serious business of conservation can only benefit from such a reasoned and balanced inquiry. You can love seals and still appreciate this book.’
Evening Post-Echo Ltd  Hemel Hempstead, Herts, 15 September 1979

‘Written with authority, the book - which includes some very appealing photographs - lets the reader make up his own mind. Anyone interested in our natural environment will appreciate this book’          East Kilbride News, 19 October 1979

‘In Seal Cull: The Grey Seal Controversy (Penguin: Harmondsworth, UK; 95 pence), John Lister-Kaye has come close to providing an account which is fair to both sides. Lister-Kaye has provided a first class documentary of the grey seal fishery issue in which he has systematically presented the information in a form which is useful to statesman, politician, scientist, fisherman, conservationist and interested layman alike. He writes not as a completely detached observer and is not afraid to state his own opinion on main issues and attribute blame or praise where he thinks fit.’
Nature, 6 December 1979

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