Windhoek, Namibia — Namibia will attempt to reduce the local seal population by 80,000 this year, officials recently announced, despite opposition from animal rights groups.

The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources said the reduction is necessary to maintain balance in the ecosystem and keep the seals from hurting the nation’s fishing industry.

Seal numbers increased from 1.3 million to 1.6 million over the past three years, said Annely Haifene, executive director of the marine ministry.

She told VOA this is an indication of a healthy marine ecosystem but is also a threat to the $10 billion fishing industry, which is one of the largest contributors to Namibia’s economy, because seals prey on the fish.

Last year’s seal harvest was disappointing, Haifene said, with the companies that hold rights to catch seals along Namibia’s Atlantic coastline harvesting less than 50% of the “total allowable catch.”

“The challenge is really the market,” she said. “There is no demand for pup’s products, and therefore, even if you harvest them, you will likely not get any economic sense out of the pups.”

Markets for the bulls are difficult, too, she said.

The main market for seal pelts and food products is China, but demand has dropped because of an international ban on seal fur.

Last year, the total allowable catch for seal pups was 80,000. Only 3,764, or 5% of the target, was harvested. The companies harvested a larger proportion of adult seals, catching about 3,100 of the 6,000 allowed.

Haifene blamed animal rights groups for last year’s the low numbers.

Naude Dreyer of Ocean Conservation Namibia said Namibia’s attempts to reduce the seal population is having the opposite effect of what the ministry is trying to achieve.

“By taking out the biggest bulls in the group, you are messing with the harem structures in the groups,” he said. “Normally a big bull will have up to 50 females underneath him, which he would then be fighting with other big bulls to keep them exclusively his. By taking out those big bulls, this allows much younger males to come in and do the mating.”

Namibia is the only country in the Global South where seal harvesting takes place. Other countries that harvest seals include the United States, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Finland and Sweden.

Namibian seals live in three colonies along the country’s 1,500-kilometer (932-mile) coastline.

This year’s harvest is set to end in November. Authorities believe the harvest will be less than last year’s due to declining interest in seal products on the international market.

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