A film has been made by Lizzie Daly a leading wildlife biologist and BBC presenter – ‘Silent Slaughter: The Shooting of Scotland’s Seals’, which looks at the practice of the licensed shooting of seals in Scotland.
The practice is currently legal and the Scottish government issues shooting licences to fish farms.
Seal Licensing states: “It is an offence to kill or injure a seal except under licence or for welfare reasons”
Lizzie Daly wants consumers to only buy salmon from farms that have used ‘safe alternative seal deterrent methods’ – such as extra-strong nets.
Lizzie Daly said:
“I’ve seen how important salmon farming is to Scotland, and it should be something they’re proud of, as they should be with all their marine wildlife, too.
“But I’m calling on the RSPCA and supermarkets to help bring an end to the shooting of seals in Scotland by only sourcing salmon from farms that use safe alternative seal deterrent methods – such as strong tension double-nets – and, crucially, don’t shoot seals.
“Properly weighted anti-predator nets are highly effective at separating salmon from seals.
“However they’re not the cheapest option for salmon farms, and there’s a reluctance to install them because of cost.
“It’s my view that the shooting of seals is barbaric and unnecessary. They’re natural predators and it’s us who are in their environment.
“I also think most salmon consumers would be shocked to discover that their food has been supplied at the expense of seals.”
During Lizzie’s film, she’s seen examining the bodies of five seals recently discovered dead on a beach on the isle of Yell, Shetland, with what appear to be gunshot wounds.
There are around 250 salmon farms in Scotland and a large population of both common and grey seals living alongside them.
In 2017 Marine Scotland received 48 applications for seal licences and 43 licences have been granted.
28 licences issued for protection of health and welfare and one issued for prevention of serious damage, cover a total of 175 individual fish farms. The maximum number of seals involved is 245 Grey and 113 Common.
Seal culling itself is governed by The Marine (Scotland) Act, which was put in place in 2010 to ensure the protection of seals.
Lizzie Daly suspects some licences are being abused.
“The aim of the film is to raise awareness of this issue with consumers and encourage them to buy salmon from sources that don’t shoot seals or endorse such practices and asking supermarkets and other suppliers to do the same for all their salmon.”
The RSPCA acknowledged a ‘welfare dilemma’ when it comes to seals and salmon farms in an official statement.
A spokesperson said:
“No-one wants seals to be shot, least of all the RSPCA, but neither do we want hundreds of thousands of salmon – which have the capacity to feel pain – to suffer and die in a seal attack.
“It’s a welfare dilemma and one which we are working hard to address. Shooting as a routine method for keeping seals away from a pen is illegal without a licence and is totally unacceptable.
“Members of the RSPCA Assured are not allowed to routinely shoot seals. The RSPCA standards, if properly adhered to, should in most cases negate the need to shoot any seals.”
There are other methods of seal management that don’t involve the animals being shot.
One of the most commonly used are ‘Acoustic Deterrent Devices’, or ADDs.
They make painfully-loud underwater noises which the salmon farmers use to keep seals away from their salmon pens.
But ADDs are, according to Lizzie, just as destructive as guns when it comes to seal management, as the sound disrupts and disperses nearby cetaceans while also potentially rendering seals, dolphins, porpoises and whales deaf in the process.
ADDs are also considered by some to be ‘ineffective’ at repelling seals, as the animals have learned to keep their heads above water while approaching nets in order to negate the effects.
According to Scottish government stats, roughly 40% of the world population of grey seals can be found in Britain and over 90% of British grey seals breed in Scotland, the majority in the Hebrides and in Orkney.
Between 1996 and 2001, 34,625 common seals were counted in the whole of Britain, of which 30,196 (87%) were in Scotland.
According to the Wildlife Trusts, there’s an estimated 120,000 grey seals in Britain.
The Scottish salmon farming industry is thought to be worth in excess of £500 million per year in terms of exports alone.