Seals are protected under Scottish law but the Scottish Government grants licences for the shooting of problem animals.

SSPO seeks clarity over seal shooting export threat

The Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation is working with the Scottish Government and the European Union to seek clarity over whether the licensed shooting of seals threatens exports to the United States, SSPO chief executive Scott Landsburgh has said.

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Glasgow's Herald newspaper reported this week that the US could ban salmon from Scotland after 2021 if licences were still being issued to shoot problem seals because the practice contravenes US animal welfare rules.

The Herald said 1,600 seals have been killed under licence in the six years to 2016, with nearly 100 shot last year. It named Marine Harvest Scotland as the biggest killer with 21 shootings. Another 18 were shot by the Moray Firth Seal Management Group, which is made up of salmon fishery boards.

Scottish Sea Farms shot 12 and Cooke Aquaculture Scotland shot eight.

Fish killed by a seal.

Grieg Seafood Hjaltland has stopped seal killings and relies on econets to protect the salmon.

According to the Herald, a new rule agreed by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – part of the Department of Commerce – bans the import of any fish that does not meet US standards, and it is illegal under the US Marine Mammal Protection Act to intentionally kill or injure seals in any commercial US fishing operation.

The newspaper quoted an NOAA source as saying: “We are right now comprising the list of foreign fisheries. No products will be banned during development of that list. Scotland has until 2021, to demonstrate that they have eliminated the intentional mortality or have the required procedures in place."

"Acutely aware of its responsibility"

Landsburgh said: “The Scottish salmon farming industry is acutely aware of its responsibility to both its fish welfare and the welfare of marine mammals which live alongside farms. However, from time to time seals attack fish and pens. While the salmon farming industry is permitted under Scottish law to shoot seals, it is our ambition to develop enough techniques throughout the whole industry to avoid the need to shoot seals. In other words, it is our clear intention to reduce the number of seals shot to zero.

“It should be noted there are other sectors shooting seals within Scotland who don’t appear to have any public commitment to getting to zero.

“As for the US Marine Mammal Protection Act, farmers act under licence in line with Scottish legislation. We are working with the Scottish Government and the EU to seek further clarification on the regulations. The EU is considering a number of approaches and we are in discussion with its representatives through Marine Scotland.”

A spokesman for Marine Harvest told the Herald: "The industry is working hard to reduce the number of seals shot on salmon farms. Shooting is only ever carried out as a last resort when other methods of deterrence have failed to keep seals from attacking farmed stocks."

The US market is worth £200 million a year to the Scottish salmon industry.