Seal Protection Action Group: Dependent seal pups are left to starve if their mothers are shot

There is evidence that the number of seals being shot is declining but campaigners want a complete ban Credit: Reuters

The Scottish Government has just published the latest seal shooting figures on their website. They reveal that 86 grey and 24 common seals (110 animals) were reported shot between January and June this year by fish-farmers, salmon nets-men and angling interests.

Because shooting is permitted all year round, the latter six months of shooting falls within the breeding seasons of our globally important populations of grey and common seals. This means dependent pups are left to starve if their mothers are shot.

Because the carcass is seldom recovered, although required under the licence, it is not possible to establish if shot seals are nursing and so calculate the number of seal pups that may suffer as a consequence – a cruel and unnecessary tragedy that goes unreported in the statistics.

Since 2011, when the seal licence was introduced, we have seen reported numbers of seals shot fall by around 50%, from 461 in 2011 to 205 in 2014. However, the accuracy of these figures remains open to question given that the scheme is based entirely upon self-reporting.

What the reported figures do reveal is that 1,500 seals have been reported shot in 4.5 years under the scheme, an average of 333 seals each year.

Seals can be shot by licensed marksmen to protect salmon stocks Credit: ITV News

In 2014, salmon farmers shot 80 seals with a further 125 shot by salmon netters and sports angling river authorities.

Usan Salmon Fisheries of Montrose, a company that sets net for wild salmon, have already been named as the single biggest seal killing company in Scotland having shot over 100 seals in 2013 alone. RSPCA accredited ‘Freedom Food’ fish-farms shot almost 70% of the 80 seals reported shot by fish-farmers last year.

Unfortunately, shoppers have no way of knowing if the salmon product they buy has been produced by companies that shoot seals, but chances are high that this is the case.

While the Scottish Government repeatedly claims the Seal Licence scheme is ‘working well’ the delays in posting the quarterly shooting statistics and the deliberate withholding of individual company shooting information, has made any independent monitoring of the scheme very difficult.

There is no way to verify the shooting figures being reported either.

The salmon industry, from farming and netting to sports-angling needs to change.

The Seal Protection Action Group is committed to end all seal shooting and for the Scottish Salmon Industry to adopt strictly non-lethal solutions to conflicts with seals and other wildlife. In 2010, we established the Salmon Aquaculture and Seals Working Group, working with leading retailer Sainsbury’s and leading salmon producer Marine Harvest, as well as the RSPCA and leading scientists to explore, develop and introduce strictly non-lethal methods of deterring seals without harming them.

The Seal Protection Action Group believes the solutions now exist to end seal shooting and an industry worth an estimated £1 billion needs to embrace and most importantly pay for them.

These views do not necessarily reflect those of ITV News

RSPCA: Seals should be shot as an 'absolute last resort' to protect salmon