New figures from the Scottish government show more than 100 seals have been shot so far this year to protect the salmon industry. Although they are officially protected, seals can be shot under special licence. Campaigners say non-lethal means should be used to deter the marine mammals.
Official returns sent to the Scottish government by the salmon industry show that 110 seals were shot in the first part of 2015. Although officials say this is a 5% decline on the same period last year, campaigners are calling for a ban on the killings. Since 2011 seals in UK waters have been protected, making it illegal to injure or kill them. Salmon farmers, along with fishermen and netting stations, are allowed an exemption to shoot seals attacking their stock.
Pete Bevington from Hillswick Seal Sanctuary says “it’s just wrong to be shooting seals, if you put a huge plateful of fish in the sea where seals live they are going to go for it. You need to have protective measures to stop them getting in".
The shooting is done by licensed marksmen working for the fish producers.Salmon farmers say they are investing in alternatives to the shooting and have issued evidence of the damage caused by seals.
Alternatives include acoustic devices and anti-predator nets. Salmon producer Grant Cumming of Greig Seafoods in Shetland says shooting is only done as a last resort, "I think we realise that we have shot far too much in this area and that's something we have had a real determination to change".
The Scottish Salmon Producers' Organisation says, "Most of the time, salmon farms exist happily alongside Scotland’s wide range of marine wildlife. However, from time to time a seal will attack the salmon in the net pens killing many fish."
The Scottish salmon farming industry takes very seriously its responsibility to animal welfare, both to the fish in its care and to the wider marine population, including wild seals in Scottish waters.
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