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New group aims to stop seal killing at fish farms

SALMON farmers, retailers and animal welfare groups have formed a unique coalition to tackle the problem of seals being killed at salmon farms.

In what is believed to be a world first, Marine Harvest, one of the world’s largest salmon farming companies will work with the Seal Protection Action Group alongside Sainsbury’s, Freedom Food, the RSPCA, the Sea Mammal Research Unit and International Animal Rescue.

The development was hailed as a major breakthrough by Andy Ottaway of the Seal Protection Action Group, who has been campaigning for many years for the practice to end.

So-called rogue seals have posed problems for the salmon farming industry for many years, including damaging salmon farm nets, contributing to the release of thousands of salmon and impacting on the welfare of the farmed fish when a site is attacked.

Although it remains legal for salmon farmers to shoot problem seals, the new forum aims to find entirely non-lethal ways of deterring seals while protecting fish farm stocks.

Alan Sutherland of Marine Harvest said: “We appreciate that this has always been a difficult issue for us. Animal welfare and conservation groups are keen to see an end to the shooting of problem seals and we are keen to find alternative ways to stop problem seals taking fish, damaging nets and releasing farmed salmon into the wild.

“We believe the best solution is to focus on our common aim, rather than arguing about our differences.”

Mr Ottaway added: “We want a real solution to this problem and hope that eventually the whole industry will follow suit.

“We hope the solutions we find will not just save seals in Scottish waters every year, but countless more worldwide, wherever they are in conflict with aquaculture and other fisheries.”

Ally Dingwall of supermarket Sainsbury’s said the project was groundbreaking.

The Scottish salmon industry has reported that 489 seals were shot on Scottish salmon farms in 2008 whereas some welfare groups believe the number of seals shot in Scottish waters by all fisheries interests including wild netsmen and angling interests to be in the thousands. 

The group said it would bring together leading experts on this issue, who will work with the industry to identify best practice methods and equipment to deter seals without harming them or other wildlife.