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Scotland’s salmon farmers call for compensation for stock lost in seal attacks.  

Scotland’s salmon farmers have today (Thursday 18th Feb) asked Scottish Government ministers to consider financial compensation for fish lost to seal attacks.

Despite repeated requests, the Scottish Government have failed to provide any guidance on what fish farmers should do if a seal gets into a pen, or how to deal with seals harassing or attacking fish from outside the pen.

The call, made today by the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO), came as figures were published showing that 79 seals were shot in the last 12 months by salmon farmers – the last year farmers were permitted to shoot seals.

The change in law, which took away one of the legislative exemptions that allowed farmers to shoot seals as a last resort, came into force on January 31 this year. The changes in regulation were introduced by the Scottish Government to ensure Scottish salmon can continue to be exported to the US after January 1 2023.

Seals are only ever shot as a last resort by farmers protecting their stock. The new figures, published today, show that 79 seals were shot in the 12 months to January 31 2021 which is the highest for seven years. This number reflects the increasingly serious threat seals pose to farm-raised salmon.

With very few natural predators of their own, Scotland’s seal population is booming, with numbers estimated to be at least 132,000. The sector has spent £8 million in the last 12 months on anti-predator nets to protect fish from seals.

Seals are also a threat to wild salmon stocks and almost as many seals have been shot by wild fishery interests in the last five years as by salmon farmers.

The SSPO also published figures today showing that more than 500,000 farmed salmon were killed by seals in 2020 although many more are likely to have died from the stress of being in close proximity to a seal in a salmon pen.

This equates to more than £13 million in lost revenue for Scotland’s salmon farmers, a loss which they say should be compensated for.

Tavish Scott, Chief Executive of the SSPO, said: “The Scottish Government has stopped fish farmers taking action to protect the welfare of fish without putting anything else in place. The law is a mess with three conflicting legislations. Farmers don’t know what they are legally permitted to do if a seal gets into a salmon pen.

“Our farmers dedicate their careers to looking after their livestock and they also have a legal duty to protect their fish but ministers have given them no options at all. We need detailed, workable guidance and we need it urgently.

“Members have already invested more than £8 million in anti-predator nets in just the last year. But these latest figures show half a million fish were lost to seals. So seals can still find their way into salmon pens.

“The government has taken virtually every option of deterrence away from salmon farmers. Therefore the government must recognise the need for compensation. Our members cannot be expected to cope with millions of pounds in losses every year with absolutely no guidance from the Scottish Government as to how they approach this problem.”

The SSPO is calling for:

  • Clear guidance from Marine Scotland and the Scottish Government on what farmers should do if a seal gets into a salmon pen.
  • A discussion on the issue of compensation between ministers and the farmed salmon sector in Scotland.

ENDS

Notes to editors:

  • Seal shootings on or around salmon farms 2014-2020. The figures below show the number of seals shot as a result of seal attacks, fish worrying or entering fish pens. The estimated minimum population of common and grey seals in Scotland is 132,000 (source: SMRU 2018). (Annual figures are collated start Feb through to end Jan).
  • 2014, 88
    • 2015, 68
    • 2016, 65
    • 2017, 49
    • 2018, 54
    • 2019, 63
    • 2020, 79
  • More than 500,000 farmed salmon were reported as being killed directly as a result of seal attacks on Scottish salmon farms in 2020. This represents a loss of farmgate value to salmon farmers of more than £13.1 million at harvest.
  • The three pieces of legislation which cover salmon farmers are:
    • Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 section 107 – it is an offence to intentionally or recklessly kill a seal except under specific licence.
    • Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) Scotland Act 9 amended June 2020) - withdrawal of exemption for fish farmers to shoot seals.
    • Animal Welfare Act 2006 – anyone responsible for an animal must take reasonable steps to make sure the animal’s welfare needs are met.
  • A ban on shooting by salmon farmers was introduced to keep Scotland compliant with the US Marine Mammals Protection Act which effectively bans the import of any seafood, if marine mammals ae harmed during its production.
  • The ban on seal shooting by salmon farmers was implemented on January 31 2021 following legislation in the Scottish Parliament to amend the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) Scotland Act in June 2020. 
  • The Scottish Government regularly compensates land farmers for lost stock. For instance, in 2013, famers had access to a £500,000 fund to meet the costs of disposing of livestock killed in severe weather.
  • Land farmers are also compensated for damage to their land from geese under goose management schemes, organised by NatureScot.
  • Under the Sea Eagle Management Scheme, also run by NatureScot, help is provided to farmers who lose lambs and sheep to these protected predatory birds.
  • The Scottish salmon farming sector provides direct employment for 2,500+ people and supports 10,000+ jobs in processing and the supply chain. 
  • 3,600 companies across Scotland work with the sector.
  • In 2020 the Scottish salmon sector launched their Sustainability Charter: A Better Future For Us All, detailing 5 pledges and 41 actions to ensure they are world leading in growing healthy, nutritious food in the most responsible and sustainable way.

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