Advertisement

Seals in Shetland are getting into deep water with the salmon industry

I asked Shetland locals where I and my cameraman should go to see the seals. I was expecting to be given complex map readings leading to a quiet cove. "Behind Tesco” was the advice I actually got. Sure enough, there they were.

A group of seals rest on bedrock in Shetland. Credit: ITV News

A group of seals hauled out on a rocky outcrop. With bushy whiskers twitching and big eyes full of curiosity, it was clear they were just as interested in us. It's revealing that one of the best known sites in Shetland for seal watching is behind the biggest supermarket. Around Shetland the seals live remarkably close to their human neighbours - and that's what's getting them into such deep trouble.

A seal rests on equipment at a salmon farm in Shetland.

The salmon farms are big business for Shetland and parts of mainland Scotland. Production has rocketed 10% in a year - to a record 179,022 tonnes worth £733 million. Long before the "aquaculture" arrived, the seals were here.

Since legislation in 2010 they have had "enhanced protection measures", meaning you can’t injure or kill a seal. The system allows an exception for the salmon farmers, who can get special licenses to kill them. It is always stressed that this is a last resort after all else has been tried.

The new figures show 47 seals were shot by marksmen for salmon farms and 63 by those working for salmon netters and river managers.

110
seals have been shot so far in 2015, new figures show

The killing is done by trained marksmen - but there are problems. Freedom of Information disclosures we have show that very often the corpses are not recovered. I spoke to one couple who took photos of one they say was washed up on their local beach. Another problem is that the shooting happens out in the open, where it has been witnessed. For tourists who cherish the wildlife here - that would be a grisly sight indeed. The number of seals shot has declined (down 5% on the same period last year), but there are growing calls for a total ban on this killing.

A seal found shot on a beach Credit: Hillswick Seal sanctuary

I've spoken to many who want an end to the seal shooting - and that includes the salmon farmers themselves. They seem to fully realise that many shoppers buying their supermarket supplies will not want to support seal killing.

Chris Choi speaks to a salmon producer in Shetland about protective measures. Credit: ITV News

I've seen how farms are spending big money on "non-lethal" measures such as reinforced netting. The problem is that so far not one of these has been accepted industry-wide - and the shooting continues.

  • Tell us what you think by joining the conversation on our Facebook page

More on this story