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Growing seal population a bane to fishermen

More and more seals are popping up around Nantucket, and some who fish these waters believe they have become a major nuisance.
More and more seals are popping up around Nantucket, and some who fish these waters believe they have become a major nuisance.stan grossfeld/globe staff

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In the late 1970s, only a few seals hung around Nantucket, and even then, only in the winter.

But in the last decade, their numbers have exploded, with recent counts putting the number at more than 15,000, and that does not include seals in the water.

Muskeget Island, just west of Nantucket and Tuckernuck Island, now has the largest gray seal breeding colony in the United States.

But fisherman Ken Kassan, known as Big Kenny Tin Squid, yearns for the good ol’ days, because these days, one of his favorite fishing spots, the Great Point rip, is almost always closed to everyone except boaters to protect the seals.

Problem is, seals ruin the fishing.

Big Kenny isn’t as angry about it as some other fishermen. In 2011, five seals were shot dead on Cape Cod. There are whispers that it could happen again.

“There are guys out there that are bloodthirsty,” he says. “They want to go out there with AK 47s and mow all the seals down.”

But Massachusetts banned the killing of seals in 1965, and in 1972, the Marine Mammal Protection Act protected them nationally.

So the seal comeback has been amazing, and environmentalists hail it as proof of a healthy ecosystem.

Fishermen condemn this as the beginning of the end of recreational surfcasting.

So is there a happy medium? Can fishermen and environmentalists find a solution?

The opinions range far and wide, but there is some good news.

At least the sides are talking.

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