Prior to the end of January farmers were able to apply for licences to shoot seals that were damaging their stock and equipment.
However, since the ban the Scottish Government has – according to the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) – “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”.
The call for compensation came as figures were published showing that 79 seals were shot in the last 12 months by salmon farmers, reflecting the increasingly serious threat seals pose to farm-raised salmon. The changes in regulation were introduced by the Scottish Government to ensure Scottish salmon can continue to be exported to the US after January 1 2023.
With very few natural predators of their own, Scotland’s seal population is booming, with numbers estimated to be at least 132,000. The salmon farming sector has spent £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 £13 million in lost revenue for Scotland’s salmon farmers, a loss which they say should be compensated for.
Tavish Scott, chief executive of the SSPO, said: “The Scottish Government has stopped fish farmers taking action to protect the welfare of fish without putting anything else in place. 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.
“Members have already invested more than £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.”
The SSPO is calling for:
- Clear guidance from Marine Scotland and the Scottish Government on what farmers should do if a seal gets into a salmon pen.
- A discussion on the issue of compensation between ministers and the farmed salmon sector in Scotland.