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Row over new seals killing scheme

THE SHETLAND salmon farming industry has defended its right to protect its stock against seals after coming under pressure from animal welfare campaigners.

The Scottish government has just released figures how many seals can be killed this year under the new seal licensing scheme introduced under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010.

The government said it had issued 65 licenses to marksmen allowing them to kill up to 1,298 seals in Scottish waters during 2011, 130 of which can be killed in Shetland. 

Fish farmers in the isles had originally asked to be allowed to shot 384 gray and 47 common seals, but Marine Scotland only granted licenses for 120 gray and 10 common seal to be killed in the far north.

Campaigners said the numbers were far too high and condemned the lack of any independent inspection or monitoring scheme to ensure that the new quotas were strictly adhered to.

Seal numbers in Shetland have come under severe pressure over recent years with common seals suffering a steep decline in numbers falling from more than 6,000 in the 90s to around 3,000 a few years ago.

On Friday, the Seal Protection Action Group (SPAG) director Andy Ottaway welcomed the licensing scheme as a “significant step forward in reducing the numbers of seals shot every year in Scotland”, but added:

“However, without an inspection and monitoring scheme, and without the mandatory introduction of non-lethal measures to deter seals, the numbers of seals killed in Scotland will remain unacceptably high.

“An average of over three seals shot every single day is too high a price to pay for Scottish salmon.”

But David Sandison, who represents the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO) in Shetland, said the industry welcomed the licensing scheme as a positive step in the right direction and added that fish farmers also had a welfare responsibility towards the fish they farm.

“We as an industry have committed to the report mechanism that exists. Every time that we have to resort using the license we have to notify the relevant authorities and we have to retrieve the carcass that will then be examined by a post mortem.

“There is quite a lot of onus on the industry to declare what it has done, and that is an improvement to what we had before.

“We are going to have people in the Seal Action Protection Group and the Save our Seals campaigns who will never be happy about any seal being shot under any circumstances.

“We don’t think that is correct, because we have a legitimate right to protect our fish stocks. We are going to do that in a responsible manner, will comply with the law and report that activity in a way that is helpful to the overall seal management requirements of the government and others,” he said.