More than one million farm-raised salmon in Scotland are expected to have been killed by seals in the two years to the end of 2021, according to new figures released today.
Statistics published by Salmon Scotland, the trade body for Scotland’s farmed salmon sector, reveal the extent of seal predation on salmon farms, with attacks costing salmon farmers an average of £12m a year in lost fish.
The figures are contained in a report setting out in detail the impact of seal attacks on Scotland’s salmon farming sector.
Tavish Scott, Chief Executive of Salmon Scotland, said seal predation was getting worse and he urged government ministers to sit down with sector leaders to discuss possible solutions.
He said: “There is no easy fix but we need a dialogue with ministers – and the leaders of other sectors affected – to find ways of tackling what has become an increasingly serious issue for our members.”
The figures released by Salmon Scotland show that in 2020, 516,443 fish were killed directly in seal attacks (with many hundreds of thousands more so stressed they died later).
In the eight months to the end of August 2021, a further 347,917 salmon were killed directly by seals, taking the total since January 2020 to 864,360. With four months left in 2021 and with seal attacks peaking traditionally in the winter, the total is due to pass one million well before Christmas.
The salmon killed by seals would have fetched a market price of £12,253,743 in 2020 and a further £8,436,987 in the eight months of 2021 to end of August, adding up to a total lost revenue of £20,690,730.
Scotland has 210 active salmon farms, of which about 70% will be stocked at any one time. This means that on average, 2,792 salmon were lost per farm (with a lost harvest revenue of £67,696) in 2020 and a further 1,955 fish (with an expected harvest revenue of £47,399) in the first eight months of 2021.
Until the start of 2021, salmon farmers could shoot seals as a last resort and a small number, about 50, were shot every year to protect stocks. This power has since been removed by Scottish Government legislation.
Acoustic deterrent devices (ADDs) have been used to keep seals away from farm sites, but can also potentially cause harm to protected marine mammals such dolphins and porpoises. ADDs have been removed or switched off pending a decision on licensing from Marine Scotland.
Salmon Scotland argues that farmers have a statutory duty to protect their stock but many feel they are powerless to do anything about seals, which are a protected species, now that they now neither dispatch the predators nor scare them away.