Monk-seal interaction with the fishing sector
The mediterranean monk seal has been classified as “critically endangered” by IUCN since 1960.
Once abundant throughout the Mediterranean, today there are less than 500 animals, divided in 3 subpopulations. One of which is located in the archipelago of Madeira. One of the main threats and causes of death are deliberate killings by fishermen and accidental deaths due to entanglements in various fishing gears.
To try and halt the decline of this species, in 1988 the National Park Service of Madeira initiated the Monk Seal Conservation and Monitoring Program. In 1980 only 6 or 8 animals remained, but due to conservation and protection measures, the numbers have been slowly rising and today the population has around 30/35 animals. This means that because there are more animals the interactions between the monk seal and the fisherman are becoming increasingly frequent and in 2001 the Natural Park Service of Madeira started receiving various complaints that the monk seals are attacking the various fishing gears.
Due to their profession, the fishermen are those who most frequently interact with Monachus monachus and it is necessary to mitigate the existing conflict so that monk seals and fishermen can coexist in harmony. To obtain a better understanding and to determine the extent of the problem, a survey was carried out on the Madeira Island, Porto Santo Island and the Desertas Islands, amongst the local fishermen. Of the 766 registered fishermen a total of 113 valid surveys were obtained. The data was then analyzed.
The main results of this study were that 30 % of the fishermen inquired said that the monk seals had caused damage to their fishing gear. The fishing gear that had more attacks were the longlines 27,9%, followed by other hooks and lines (handline, troll) 22%, traps 16,2%, “salto e vara” 14,7%, hand nets 10,3%, jig 7,4% and in last purse seine with 1,5%. The attacks were described as being infrequent and occurred more frequently in the summer time and in the morning.
This study was not able to determine which fishing grounds were more prone to these attacks. This study also demonstrates that the main reaction about the return of the monk seal to the Island of Madeira, is one of indifference but there is still lack of information concerning the species amongst the fishermen.