The Angling Trust has announced that it will not be pursuing an application to Natural England for a licence to shoot the Severn seal, following the conclusion of an agreement with the British Divers Marine Life Rescue service which will see both organisations working together to relocate the mammal back to the sea, protecting vulnerable freshwater fish stocks.
A press release from the Angling Trust explained: "The longer the seal remains away from its natural habitat, the greater the risk of it coming to harm from eating food thrown to it by the public or being injured by lock gates or boat propellers.
Recent drops in river levels have improved the prospects of the animal either being rescued, or heading out to sea.
The Angling Trust said that it felt that it had little choice but to consider reluctantly securing a licence in response to requests by local clubs and anglers and after the Environment Agency and Natural England failed to take any action whatsoever to manage the situation, despite ongoing and severe damage to the rivers stocks by the marine mammal.
Shooting was always seen as the very last resort and in any case would have had to be licensed by Natural England.
Seals do not enjoy absolute protection as some have claimed. In Scotland, the equivalent organisation licenses more than 1,000 seals to be killed every year to protect fish stocks and salmon farms.
Although the Environment Agency (EA) declined to act to protect the coarse fishery in the River Severn, the Angling Trust has learned that in the past the EA had assisted in the removal of seals from the Rivers Towy and Cleddau in Wales to protect salmon and seatrout stocks.
Alan Knight OBE, Chairman of the British Divers Marine Life Rescue said: "The Angling Trust and the representatives of the local angling clubs have been utterly committed from the start to finding a solution which avoided any harm coming to the seal but minimised damage to fish and birdlife. They consulted the BDMLR on several occasions and have been very understanding of the complex issues involved in rescuing marine mammal.
They have followed up on all the suggestions we have made about finding a solution that would get the seal back out to sea where it belongs, unharmed. We understand the approach they have taken to try to manage this situation on behalf of the angling community and their concern for freshwater fish stocks in the Severn. However, it's great that we will now be working together to find a safe and humane solution to prevent this, and other seals, becoming stranded, injured or worse."
Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust said: "Anglers have only ever sought to protect the vitally important River Severn fishery and really didn't want to see any harm coming to the seal. But in the face of inaction by those agencies whose job it is to protect fish and wildlife something had to be done to get things moving and our original statement on this situation has served that purpose. It is also pretty frustrating to hear that Scottish and Welsh salmon rivers seem to get better protection than an important English coarse fishery.
In the meantime we are calling on the public not to feed this or any other seal that ventures into freshwater. It only makes matters worse and hinders attempts at relocation."
The new partnership between the Angling Trust and the BDMLR has been given a warm welcome by local wildlife campaigner Lenni Sykes, who has spoken out for the protection of the seal.
Lenni, a natural history writer with extensive experience in wildlife rescue and rehabilitation said: "I am delighted to have clarification from the Angling Trust that they do not wish to shoot the seal. They are being proactive in co-operating with seal rescue experts and have followed up on advice and ordered a scrammer to deter the seal.
Meanwhile, I am grateful that they are encouraging their members to pass on sightings so we can evaluate when and where the seal might be captured successfully and returned to the sea."