Scotland’s salmon farmers have asked Scottish Government ministers to consider financial compensation for fish lost to seal attacks.
The Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) published figures showing that more than 500,000 farmed salmon were killed by seals in 2020 and said “many more are likely to have died from the stress of being in close proximity to a seal in a salmon pen.”
The SSPO said this equates to more than £13 million in lost revenue for Scotland’s salmon farmers.
“Despite repeated requests, the Scottish Government have 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,” said the SSPO.
The SSPO said 79 seals were shot in the last 12 months by salmon farmers – the last year that farmers were permitted to shoot seals.
“The change in law, which took away one of the legislative exemptions that allowed farmers to shoot seals as a last resort, came into force on January 31 this year,” said the SSPO.
“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.
“Seals are only ever shot as a last resort by farmers protecting their stock.
“The new figures, published today, show that 79 seals were shot in the 12 months to January 31 2021 which is the highest for seven years.
“This number reflects the increasingly serious threat seals pose to farm-raised salmon.
“With very few natural predators of their own, Scotland’s seal population is booming, with numbers estimated to be at least 132,000.
“The 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.”
SSPO CEO Tavish Scott 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.”