Anti-salmon farming activist Don Staniford on his way to film fish in a pen at a Scottish Sea Farms site at Loch Spelve, Mull. Image taken from video by Don Staniford.

Fish wounds filmed by activist were caused by seals says salmon farmer

Scottish Sea Farms has denied claims by anti-salmon farming activist Don Staniford that injuries seen on fish filmed at its Loch Spelve farm earlier this month were the result of disease or sea lice infestations. The wounds were instead caused by seals, said SSF.

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In videos posted on his website, Staniford is seen being brought close to the site by a powered sailing boat and explains how he then used a dinghy to reach two cages at 7pm after farm staff had gone home.

Using a GoPro camera mounted on a long pole, he stood at the cage edge and filmed under water. A one-minute edited video of the filming shows that a handful of injured fish among otherwise healthy specimens.   

“Video footage clearly shows fin damage, skin lesions, open wounds (which may be Winter Ulcer), mouth rot, lice infestation and indicates welfare and disease problems,” wrote Staniford, who has complained to the Animal and Plant Health Agency, Police Scotland Wildlife Crime Unit and the Scottish Government Fish Health Inspectorate that SFF has breached the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006.

‘Clearly seal damage’

However, Dr Ralph Bickerdike, head of fish health and welfare for Scottish Sea Farms, said: “Contrary to the claims being made, the footage clearly depicts the damage that seals can cause to fish, in much the same way that foxes can harm or kill chickens or lambs for example.

“Our farm teams are vigilant to presence of any damage caused to our salmon, removing affected fish as swiftly as possible and ensuring they are dispatched quickly and humanely in the interest of high animal welfare.”

A ban on the “last resort” shooting of seals that couldn’t be deterred from trying to enter or bite through salmon pen nets came into force on January 31 this year.

The use of some acoustic deterrent devices (ADDs) has also been discontinued under new legislation.

Farms more vulnerable

The legislation was in part introduced to ensure Scottish salmon farmers didn’t breach US animal protection laws and would still be able to export to America, but it has left farms more vulnerable to Scotland’s thriving seal population.

According to the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO), more than 500,000 farmed salmon were killed by seals in 2020, with many more are likely to have died from the stress of being in close proximity to a seal in a salmon pen – and that was before the ban on shooting and some ADDs.

In February, SSPO chief executive Tavish Scott said the shooting ban contradicted legislation requiring farmers to protect the welfare of their fish.

“The Scottish Government has stopped fish farmers taking action to protect the welfare of fish without putting anything else in place,” said Scott at the time.

“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.”