Fish farmers in Scotland killing estimated 2,000 seals a year

| 28th September 2010
Shooting seals is still legal
Shooting seals is cheap option - photo from Orkney Seal Rescue/SPAG
Campaigners warn legislation to protect seals is ‘no where near tight enough’ as industry initiative attempts to find alternatives to shooting

Major retailers and animal welfare groups, including Sainsburys and the RSPCA, are to attempt to end the killing of seals by the salmon industry.

Seals are a problem for fish farms as they can damage nets and release salmon, potentially damaging the wild populations.

At present with no incentive to adopt non-lethal methods, shooting seals is still considered ‘cheapest and final’ solution for Scottish Salmon industry.

Earlier this year the Scottish government announced a new licencing scheme which authorises the killing of seals to protect farmed fish, fisheries and fish farms. Campaigners warn the new scheme, which is planned to go live in early 2011, is just a disguise for a ‘nationwide culling system’ and is calling for alternative solutions.

Andy Ottaway, from the Seal Protection Action Group (SPAG), says, killing seals is a ‘free for all’ in Scotland.

‘If you consider a seal a threat to fisheries, then you can kill it. A gun and a bullet solves the problem and it costs…virtually nothing,' he added.

In the 1970s when the Conservation of Seals Act was passed, formal seal culling was stopped as a result of public protects, but SPAG suggests this just drove the killing underground and there is currently ‘no effective monitoring or enforcement’.

There is an on-going dispute over the number being killed. The salmon industry claims 489 seals were shot in 2008, but Ottaway states, ‘we think that’s a very conservative figure; we believe…aquaculture is probably responsible for 2-2,500 seals being shot’ per year.

An alternative to killing

A Salmon, Aquaculture and Seals Working Group, has now been set up to research alternative non-lethal measures to deter seals from harming the salmon, such as tougher nets, tensionsing and acoustic devises. Members of the group include Sainsbury’s, Freedom Food, the RSPCA, the Sea Mammal Research Unit, International Animal Rescue and Marine Harvest, who will all work together with SPAG.

‘If we can stick a man on the moon forty years ago surely we can keep a seal out of fish cage’, Ottaway states. However, while killing is still legal there is seems to be no real pressure on industry to adopt these more expensive non-lethal methods.

Scott Landsburgh, Chief Executive, Scottish Salmon Producers' Organisation, said: 'Fish farmers believe that exclusion and deterrents form the most effective policy to manage seals that approach fish farms. However, one persistent rogue seal can cause enormous suffering and kill thousands of fish. The welfare of the fish is equally important.'

Seal culling is a global problem. In Canada over 300,000 seal pups are slaughtered every year and in Namibia 90,000 are killed for skin, fur and meat. Ottaway states, there are ‘less grey seals in the world than African elephants’, and it is reported common seals are in ‘frightening decline’.

Useful links
Seal Protection Action Group

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