The USA, Scotland’s top salmon export destination, has warned that Scotland must stop killing seals if it wishes to continue trading.
£213 million worth of salmon was exported to the USA in 2014 alone. Scotland is the third largest exporter of salmon in the world.
All countries exporting to the USA must show that their fisheries do not engage in the intentional killing of marine mammals, an act currently legal in Scotland.
In Scotland it is legal to kill seals with a license. 43 licenses have been granted in 2016 covering 214 individual fish farms.
There are also rules on the maximum total number of seals killed per year to limit the impact on the overall population; 283 grey seals and 115 common seals.
A report has shown that between February 2011 and October 2015, over 1,200 grey seals and 275 common seals were reported shot, despite the fishing industry’s promise to reduce yearly shootings to zero.
Seals are seen by fisheries as predators to their stock; however it has been noted that seals would not usually eat commercially valued fish, preferring eels, herring and flatfish in their normal diet.
A study on the east coast of Scotland showed that less than 2 per cent of fisheries were actually attacked by seals.
Additionally, fisheries have been built near to haul-out areas, important pieces of land for seals to give birth, raise young, and socialise. There are major concerns with the ethics of the killings.
A study carried out by researchers from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland’s Rural College, and the University of Bristol, found that of the seals examined after death (a legal requirement of the license), some were not killed instantly from the shot, and some were not shot in the manner approved by the Scottish Seal Management Code.
Of the seals necropsied, 35 per cent were found to be pregnant grey seals.
Additionally, as there is no seasonal restrictions on the killings, some nursing adults were shot leaving young pups to die without access to essential food.
There are alternative options available to fisheries to deter seals.
Acoustic deterrents have been shown to significantly reduce seal presence in rivers, although these measures may not impact predation levels enough to make a lasting impact. Feasible alternatives are thus few and far between.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the USA has no singular specific recommended action, but advises physical barriers such as fencing, and physical contact such as high pressure water hoses and non-toxic paintball guns to deter seals and sea lions from property.
Image: Karston Madson