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Has Keith the seal's popularity taken a dive?
THE tide appears to be turning for celebrity seal Keith with anglers calling for the wayward animal to be shot as a drastic last resort if it cannot be removed from the river at Bewdley any other way.
The Angling Trust has written to a number of organisations, including the Environment Agency, demanding the seal be relocated to protect fish stocks.
If nothing can be done to remove or deter the seal, the trust claims it will be forced to secure a licence to shoot it using a qualified marksman.
It is also concerned that the seal is endangering the future of angling in the town, which it says is an important source of income for businesses.
In a statement on the trust’s website, chief executive Mark Lloyd said: “We think that the Environment Agency or Natural England should have taken action before now to protect vulnerable fish stocks in the River Severn but, as they have not, we have responded to anglers’ concerns by investing our members’ donations and subcriptions to find a number of potential solutions.
“This marine predator cannot be allowed to carry on eating its way through freshwater fish that have taken decades to grow to a size.
“We will try everything possible to remove it humanely but more drastic action may be the only option if these methods do not work.”
The trust claims it has contacted the Environment Agency, which declined its request, the British Divers Marine Life Rescue organisation, which said it would be too difficult to capture the animal safely and the company Aquatec, which provides seal scarers that emit a high-pitched noise to deter them.
The Environment Agency (EA) and RSPCA said they would not take action as the seal would naturally make its way back to the sea.
An EA spokesman said: “We are aware of the seal at Bewdley and understand the concerns of salmon and coarse fisheries and anglers.
“However, one animal on a large river like the Severn is unlikely to have a significant impact on fish stocks.
“This is ‘natural predation’ and it will eventually make its own way back out to sea. With this is mind, and also because seals are a protected species, we won’t be taking any action.”
A RSPCA spokesman said: “It's not uncommon for seals to venture up rivers away from the sea. As long as the seal is not injured or in any immediate danger then we would not be concerned for its welfare.
“The main diet of grey seals is fish, however they are opportunistic feeders and therefore they may occasionally kill and eat a small waterbird if the opportunity arose.
“We would recommend that people watch from a distance and enjoy the opportunity to see a seal in the area before it makes its own way back to the sea.”
Residents, visitors and anglers in Bewdley have also expressed their concerns after seeing the seal attack and eat two ducks last Sunday.
Stuart Anderson, of Bewdley, a member of the Pike Anglers Club of Great Britain, said: “This seal is a foreign animal in an eco-system that does not support it.
“I am very worried as it now has started taking ducks and waterfowl and soon will start attacking swans and maybe dogs swimming. It could more seriously attack a child, if cornered, as they are very territorial.”
Bewdley resident Gary Mayner snapped a photo of Keith with a duck in its mouth last Sunday.
He said: “Like everybody else at first I thought that it was nice to see a seal but the more I thought about it, having just witnessed it killing then eating a duck, it’s not quite right having it here.”
The Wyre Forest Study Group has been tracking the seal’s progress up the river.
Group co-ordinator Rosemary Winnall, of Bewdley, said: “I haven’t discovered any records of seals this far up the river before. It’s a very difficult issue.
“The seal seems to be getting so excited about all the food and is eating the high protein parts and discarding them. It would be better to go back to the sea but what can be done about it?”