Fish farms kill more seals as industry tries to save salmon

A seal grabs a fish in the River Tyne.
A seal grabs a fish in the River Tyne.
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Fish farms in Scotland have killed more seals so far this year than they did in the same period last year, fuelling criticism that the controversial industry prefers “cheap bullets” to more humane ways of protecting its lucrative stocks.

The number of seals shot has risen from 41 in the first half of 2016 to 61 for first half of this year, of which most were shot by fish farmers.

While some fish farms, including Greig Seafood, recorded no killings and have invested in costly but apparently valuable anti-predator netting to keep seals out without harming them, leading firms including Marine Harvest shot more seals, with that firm’s death toll up from eight to 11. The rise flies in the face of an industry aim of ending the death toll as an expected US ban on imports from countries using lethal methods threatens the sector’s multi-million-pound exports

Campaigners said salmon farmers could not claim to be honouring their pledge to shoot “as a last resort” unless they had invested in the nets, which act like underwater fences to stop seals reaching caged salmon. They also questioned the reliability of self-reported shootings and urged the government to bring in independent monitoring and hire marksmen to do the job to ensure killings were kept to a minimum.

John Robins, secretary of the Save Our Seals Fund and Animal Concern charities, said: “There’s absolutely no need to shoot any seals, numbers should be falling, not rising. They should install netting before they start shooting – that would be last resort. But they are reaching for the guns because bullets are cheaper than nets.”

Don Staniford, director of the Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture, said: “It costs £1 million per salmon farm [on average] to install seal-friendly predator nets –as Grieg Seafood has done in Shetland leading to zero seal kills in 2016 and thus far in 2017 – yet some trigger-happy companies continue to slaughter seals.”

Campaigners questioned the reliability of self-reporting of killings.

They urged the government to introduce independent monitoring and bring in its own marksmen while shooting continued.