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Rigid netting helps Scottish Sea Farms cut seal shootings

Scottish Sea Farms is seeing positive results from a £5.7m investment in anti-seal netting. Photo: SSF.
Scottish Sea Farms is seeing positive results from a £5.7m investment in anti-seal netting. Photo: SSF.

Scottish Sea Farms has reported a significant reduction in seal shootings following its investment in rigid new pen netting systems which has now surpassed £5.7 million.

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In the first six months of the current reporting period (February 2019 – January 2020), SSF shot two seals across its 43 marine farms, a reduction of five compared with the same period last year, six compared with 2017 and seven compared with 2016.

SSF managing director Jim Gallagher said: “We won’t be happy until we achieve zero seal deaths, however our multi-million pound investment to roll out protective Seal Pro netting across as many of our farms as possible, as quickly as possible, is another example of our commitment to farm as responsibly and as sustainably as we can.

“Not only do the tougher, more rigid nets help to deter seals, but by protecting our salmon from the stress of predation and the subsequent health challenges that can cause they also contribute to fish welfare.”

Next-generation net

With the optimum time to install the new netting systems being ahead of each new stocking, Scottish Sea Farms has now equipped more than half of its marine farms with Seal Pro nets at a cost of £4.2m, with a further £1.5m worth of nets set to be deployed between August and October 2019, bringing the total investment to date to £5.7m – with more to follow.

In a press release, SSF said the latest roll-out would include the next generation Seal Pro Excel netting which has been engineered to be the strongest, most unyielding version yet offering even greater protection.

Of the two farms where seals were shot in this reporting period, one will be equipped with the new netting ahead of its latest stocking next year, while the other farm has had Seal Pro netting in place for over a year.

Seals climbing into pens

SSF head of fish health Dr Ralph Bickerdike said: “Seals naturally feed on a variety of wild fish and other marine life and are thought to consume up to 7kg a day, depending on species. In the hunt for food, seals are occasionally relocating from farms that have Seal Pro nets to nearby farms that have previously had no significant seal challenge, hence our drive to protect all farms. We’ve also seen seals climb up and into pens. Both types of event happened earlier this year, accounting for the two shootings which were carried out under licence.”

Farm teams are now lacing top nets together in a new way to help prevent the most persistent of seals from getting into pens (see video below).

SSF has also recently begun trialling the ‘electric fish’ deterrent pioneered by Dundee-based innovators Ace Aquatec. Shortlisted in the Animal Welfare category of the 2019 Aquaculture Awards, the device is placed at the base of the net and gives a light-touch electric shock to predators that attempt to eat it, dissuading them from persisting any further.

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