500,000 farmed salmon were killed by seals in 2020. But farmers don’t know what they are legally permitted to do if a seal gets into a salmon pen.
In a statement today, Scotland’s salmon farmers asked via the SSPO the Scottish Government ministers to consider financial compensation for fish lost to seal attacks.
Despite repeated requests, the Scottish Government the SSPO said that it has 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.
In January, SalmonBusiness reported that The Scottish Salmon Company’s Skye fish farm subjected to a major seal attack on the 31st December, resulting in the loss of more than 52,000 juvenile fish.
Change in law
The call, made on Thursday 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 1st, 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,” wrote the SSPO.
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 GBP 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 GBP 13 million in lost revenue for Scotland’s salmon farmers, a loss which they say should be compensated for.
SSPO Chief Executive Tavish Scott said the Scottish Government “has stopped fish farmers taking action to protect the welfare of fish without putting anything else in place”.
Scott said that the law “is a mess” with three conflicting legislations. He added that 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,” said the SSPO boss.
“Members have already invested more than GBP 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,” concluded Scott.