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As numbers of gray seals rise, so do conflicts

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 21, 2014 at 7:46 am •  Published: July 21, 2014

ROCKLAND, Maine (AP) — Decades after gray seals were all but wiped out in New England waters, the population has rebounded so much that some frustrated residents are calling for a controlled hunt.

The once-thriving New England gray seal population was decimated by the mid-20th century because of hunting, with Massachusetts keeping a seal bounty on the books until the 1960s. But scientists say conservation efforts, an abundance of food and migration from Canada combined to revive the population.

Environmentalists cheer the resurgence, saying the gray seal boost is good for biodiversity and a boon for popular seal watch tours in coastal New England. But many fishermen say the seals interfere with fishing charters and steal catch. Beachgoers bemoan the 600-plus-pound seals taking over large stretches of shore, befouling beaches and attracting sharks, which feed on seals.

Some residents of Nantucket are so fed up over the huge seal population that now calls the affluent island home that they have suggested a controlled hunt, similar to the way states manage deer.

Nantucket resident and recreational fisherman Peter Krogh, whose Seal Abatement Coalition has collected 2,000 signatures asking federal officials to amend laws that prevent dispersion of gray seals, said gray seals are a threat to fishing and tourism on the island.

Asked if he supports a seal cull, Krogh said "all options" should be on the table for managing the population.

"This is a real threat to the traditional way of life on this island," Krogh said.

Conservationists scoff at the idea of providing amendments to the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which protects seals. They say culling the herd would undo the results of the act, which allowed the species to recover in New England.

The seals' burgeoning population is a blessing for at least one industry.

Business is booming for Keith Lincoln, who operates a seal watch ferry to Monomoy Island off Cape Cod. Seal sightings have skyrocketed from about 50 per trip in 1989 to about 2,000 per trip now, he said. The curious seals frequently come close to the boats, a thrill for gawking tourists, he said.

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