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Nature / Emerging ban on seal shooting welcomed

THE OWNERS of Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary have welcomed news that the Scottish Government is preparing to ban seal shooting by fish farmers.

Pete Bevington said that he was “delighted” that a ban appeared to be in the offing, while salmon farming bosses said that the industry had been “heading in that direction anyway”.

A report that rural affairs minister Mairi Gougeon had written to the environment committee saying that fish farmers would have to fall in line with United States wildlife law or face losing their market was published yesterday by The Ferret.

This means amendments to the Animals and Wildlife Bill transiting the Scottish Parliament, effectively banning the shooting of seals.

Bevington said that while it was a “shame” the shooting ban was being embraced for economic rather than animal welfare reasons it was still very much welcomed and hopefully indicative of a wider move for human activities to be in harmony with the natural world.

Bevington, who runs the north mainland sanctuary with his wife Jan, said: “I am basically very happy this has come about and this is something to celebrate.

Shetland News founding partner Pete Bevington is stepping aside.Pete Bevington.

“Hopeful the industry can work alongside nature and that’s what’s needed throughout the world.

“I am delighted the Scottish Government has taken this step. There remains an issue about policing.”

Two years ago tourists found five dead seals in Unst, apparently shot, and reported them to the police, but no prosecutions followed.

According to Bevington, growing public consciousness and the prevalence of mobile phones and cameras makes it easier than ever for incidents to be recorded and reported.

He also praised the steps taken by the local salmon farming industry to try new measures including investing heavily on anti-predator nets. This had been a great example for the Scottish industry.

Grieg Seafood Shetland managing director Grant Cumming said that Greig Seafood had not shot a seal in Shetland since 1 December 2017 and was working very hard to ensure it did not do so in the future.

Cummings said that the firm had “spent millions of pounds improving our prevention measures to minimise seal/farmed salmon interactions and this has proven largely effective.”

Grieg Seafood (UK) managing director Grant Cumming.

He said that it was very difficult to make any salmon cage 100 per cent seal proof. There remained a problem where an individual animal made nightly raids on a specific farm.

It was also possible a seal might refuse to leave a cage once it had broken in, in which case shooting might be the only option left. Usually seals take the first opportunity to escape when people turn up, he said.

Tranquillising an animal was a non-starter, for if tranquillised it would drown.

Cummings added: “We are aiming for the same objective, which is not to shoot any.”

Salmon farm licences contain named seal shooters who themselves must be licensed firearm owners who have completed a course on seal shooting.

Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation director of strategic engagement Hamish Macdonell said Scotland’s “growing” seal population “directly kills half a million farmed salmon in attacks every year, with thousands more fish dying from stress”.

He added: “As a result, predator management is vital in protecting the welfare of our livestock.

“The US market is an extremely important one and the farmed salmon sector has been committed to ending the shooting of seals for some time.

“In recent years Scotland’s salmon farmers have invested millions of pounds in the introduction of new predator management tools including new net designs and seal blinds.”

But Bevington said that seal populations in Shetland were not growing and the condition of animals being treated in the sanctuary in recent years showed that seals are suffering from major environmental stress.

This could include the growing visitations to Shetland by predatory orcas, who have been frequently seen hunting seals around Shetland.

He said that there was also Shetland’s growing reputation as a nature tourism destination to consider, which was at stake if seals were being shot to protect commercial enterprises.