Seal shootings in Scotland (March 2013)

SEAL campaigners condemn Scottish Government’s “obscure” publication; 423 seals shot in 2012

Article by SeafoodIntelligence.com editor Bertrand Charron

Published March 18, 2013

The Seal Protection Action Group (SPAG) condemned Friday (March 15) the Scottish Government “for publishing details about the shooting of hundreds of seals in Scotland on an obscure website, so avoiding public scrutiny and further public outrage at the killings.” SPAG also condemns the salmon farming industry for not trialing a new “very promising”, albeit very costly, seal-deterring device which has been developed partly thanks to a Scottish Gov’t grant, but owned by a private US-based company. Andy Ottaway of SPAG said: “Every day seals are shot in Scottish waters while the Scottish salmon Industry, worth half a billion pounds, quibbles over testing a device for just a few thousand pounds.” Marine Scotland granted salmon aquaculture, wild salmon netting firms & sports (incl. salmon) fishing interests licence to shoot 1,167 seals in 2012, as a ‘last resort’; 423 seals were shot (37% of total allowed). “Under the Government’s new scheme a staggering 884 seals or more, have been shot in just two years,” said Mr Ottaway. “That’s an awful lot of last resorts, and it strongly suggests nothing much is being done to curb seal shooting which is becoming institutionalised under a government scheme we hoped would help end it.”

Since the the majority of seals were shot by fisheries, including wild salmon (52% vs. 48% for aquaculture) interests, and as this was not highlighted in the original SPAG statement,  SeafoodIntelligence asked Andy Ottaway to comment further: “SPAG is opposed to all seal shootings, our work with aquaculture has continued because they offered to work with us to explore solutions and have publicly committed to end shooting.” He says SPAG recently wrote to the Scottish netsmen’s organisation which ‘declined’ to talk to them. “We are not seeking confrontation, just solutions to a common problem. We are disappointed that some sectors remain so hostile when it is in everyone’s interests to collaborate.”

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NB: SPAG failed to mention in its original March 15 statement (See below; except in its ‘Notes to Editor’) that more seals were shot by fisheries/fishermen (52% of total) than by fish farms (48%) in 2012, whilst it focused its attention on the aquaculture sector.  SPAG is calling on UK retailers to insist Scottish salmon suppliers stop killing seals, but no such call is seemingly made on retailers to demand same from wild (salmon) fisheries and/sports fishing interests…

SeafoodIntelligence thus asked Andy Ottaway of SPAG in an email this morning the following questions:

  1. Why do you only focus your comments solely on the salmon aquaculture industry when 52% of the seal killings occurred in fisheries? Notwithstanding the accuracy and relevance of your comment re. salmon farming; what do you have to say about fishermen’s actions & killings?
  2. To your knowledge, do any of those ‘fisheries’ include wild salmon fisheries? What is your information re. shootings/licensing in/by wild salmon fisheries?
  3. Finally, why do you say the figures are published on an “obscure” website; it is Marine Scotland’s webpage dedicated to seal ‘licensing’/shooting? What do you propose they should do?

We received the following answers (un-edited & in thanking Mr Ottaway for his prompt response):

Thanks Bertrand, good questions. Sorry if release was unclear on these points. Only so much room…

Our earlier releases have expressed concern that as aquaculture seal shootings go down, killings at netting stations and river fisheries are increasing. SPAG is opposed to all seal shootings, our work with aquaculture has continued because they offered to work with us to explore solutions and have publicly committed to end shooting

We (SPAG) founded the Salmon Aquaculture and Seals Working Group in September 2010 with leading retailer of Scottish Salmon (Sainsburys), largest producer (Marine Harvest), the SSPO, SMRU, RSPCA, Freedom Food, Scottish Salmon and Marine Scotland to explore reasons for and solutions to seal predation. Solutions being explored include: correct tensioning on nets, tougher net materials, better practice, equipment malfunction (ADDs), electric fields, emetics, intelligence gathering, re solutions in other countries, and the new ADD mentioned in our press release (which is so promising, hence our frustration at the delay in using it) . SPAG believes the solution to keeping seals away from any nets could have global applications, including at salmon rivers and wild salmon fisheries and netting stations. We hope such solutions will resolve fisheries conflicts with seals worldwide preventing the killing of hundreds of thousand of seals while protecting equipment and livelihoods.

We recently wrote to the Scottish netsmen’s organisation […] to talk to us, but they declined. We are not seeking confrontation, just solutions to a common problem. We are disappointed that some sectors remain so hostile when it is in everyone’s interests to collaborate.

Public outcries stopped ‘visible’ seal culling in Scotland 30 years ago. Our campaign over the past five years or so led to the government publicly announcing the Seal Licence scheme in 2011. However, the results of the scheme now appear on the Marine Scotland website under ‘licencing’  – utterly obscure to the general public, and with quarterly figures produced anything up to three months late (Sept-Dec 2012 published last week). That is not public accountability and transparency for a scheme lauded by Ministers as ‘working well’. Almost 900 seals shot in two years is hardly a ‘last resort’ and important data is not being collected to help resolve the issue either. We want a public announcement on the quarterly figures and the steps taken to reduce them.

We have been surprised at the industry ‘myths’ about seals we have encountered, many don’t stand up to scrutiny, that vilify seals as voracious pests with an exploding population that must be controlled. Not only do seals predate on fish species that predate on commercial fish stocks, and so are the fisheremen’s friend, but common seals are in ‘frightening’ decline (per SMRU scientists) in Scotland and Grey seals are among the rarest seals in the world: the UK population represents about 40% of the world population’

To put this in perspective, there are around six times more African elephants in the world than than grey seals, but no-one would seriously propose shooting 1,000 African elephants each year without provoking international condemnation!

So, in short, Scotland hosts globally important populations of grey and common seals and has an international obligation to protect them. Seals are seriously threatened by climate change, over-fishing, toxic pollution and entanglement. If we can stop all preventable killings we should. The government seal licence can and must reduce and finally end seal killings and not institutionalise them.

Source: Andy Ottaway of SPAG, email correspondence with SeafoodIntelligence.com

NB: A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: “It is now illegal to shoot a seal except under very strict licensing conditions. The numbers of seals actually shot represent less than 37% of those permitted under licence and less than 1% of the overall seal population. We will continue to work with the fish farming and wild fisheries interests to consider further options for seal management. We have also created new Seal Conservation Areas and work is being progressed to introduce further protection through designated seal ‘haul out’ sites.

Read also in the Press:

More Marine Mammals & Animal/Fish Welfare news on the SeafoodIntelligence.com News Database; including:

SPAG March 15, 2013 PR below, un-edited

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Press Release: Friday 15th March 2013

Campaigners condemn 900 seal shootings in Scotland

The Seal Protection Action Group (SPAG) today condemned the Scottish Government for publishing details about the shooting of hundreds of seals in Scotland on an obscure website, so avoiding public scrutiny and further public outrage at the killings.

The Marine Scotland website says that 61 licences were granted in 2012 to shoot a maximum of 878 grey and 289 common seals, (I,167 in total), by salmon aquaculture, wild salmon netting companies and sports  fishing interests, but only as a ‘last resort.’

The final quarter figures (Sept –Dec 2012) posted just this week reveal that 349 grey and 74 common seals were shot last year, 423 seals in total. This number represents only 38 animals less than the 461 shot in 2011, the inaugural year of the Government’s Seal Licence Scheme. That means a total of 884 seals have been shot in just two years under the seal llicence scheme.

The Marine Scotland website says that 61 licences were granted in 2012 to shoot a maximum of 878 grey and 289 common seals, (I,167 in total), by salmon aquaculture, wild salmon netting companies and sports  fishing interests, but only as a ‘last resort.’

The final quarter figures (Sept –Dec 2012) posted just this week reveal that 349 grey and 74 common seals were shot last year, 423 seals in total. This number represents only 38 animals less than the 461 shot in 2011, the inaugural year of the Government’s Seal Licence Scheme. That means a total of 884 seals have been shot in just two years under the seal llicence scheme.

Andy Ottaway of the SPAG said, ‘Under the Government’s new scheme a staggering 884 seals or more, have been shot in just two years, allegedly as a ‘last resort’ measure. That’s an awful lot of last resorts, and it strongly suggests nothing much is being done to curb seal shooting which is becoming institutionalised under a government scheme we hoped would help end it’.

The news follows revelations this week that a new seal deterrent device, developed by the Seal Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) at St Andrews University with a grant from the Scottish government, is now in the hands of a private finance company called Banker’s Capital, based in New York.  The device, which has proven very promising in laboratory and field trials at deterring seals without harming them or other wildlife, is now being offered to Scottish aquaculture companies for further trial, but at huge prices. SPAG knew about and backed this device some two years ago, but it is yet to be made readily available to the salmon industry.

Newspaper reports this week say Marine Harvest, the biggest producer of salmon in Scotland, has been asked to pay £5,000 per month to trial just one device.  If trialled at several of their farm sites it could cost the company several tens of thousands of pounds each year, as they operate over two dozen fish farms in Scotland. The SPAG campaigners fear that if simply renting the device for trial is this expensive then it could be priced out of market while seals continue to be shot.

Andy Ottaway said ‘Every day seals are shot in Scottish waters while the Scottish salmon Industry, worth half a billion pounds, quibbles over testing a device for just a few thousand pounds. It’s a shameful situation and we appeal to the government and the industry to pull together and subsidise trials far and wide, because it may save seals now as well as resolve an issue that leaves a bloody stain on the image of Scotland and Scottish salmon products’

Source: SPAG pr

Excerpt from the Marine Scotland update (published >March 11, 2013):

http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/marine/Licensing/SealLicensing

Summary, 2012 Seal Licences

  • The average level of shooting is around 37% for the second year of operation.
  • 31% of all licences have shot no seals at all during the second year.
  • Licencees are following the principle that seals should only be shot as a last resort.
  • Around 48% of shooting has occured at fish farms and 52% at fisheries during the second year.
  • Only 208 seals have been shot across 230 individual fish farms and 225 across over 40 river fisheries and netting stations during the second year.
  • There was an overall reduction of 5% in the level of shooting in the second year of licensing, compared to the first.
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