MORE than a third of salmon farms in Scotland have shot at least one seal over the past two years, according to newly released statistics which show how the mammals are being killed to protect fish stocks.
Some 176 seals were killed over the period, with one firm which supplies a leading high street retailer responsible for more than a third.
The scale of the shootings has been condemned by animal welfare activists who say that Scottish salmon, the nation’s leading food export, is “dripping with blood”.
The disclosure of the shootings was made after the Scottish Information Commissioner ordered the Scottish Government to release the data to campaigners under freedom of information legislation.
Although the government issues general figures about licences and shootings quarterly, those fighting for the release of more detailed information say the new statistics allow consumers to make informed choices about whether or not to buy farmed salmon.
Ministers said fish farm employees and their families could receive threats if the information was released, but the commissioner, Rosemary Agnew, rejected arguments that doing so would pose a substantial threat to public safety.
The data shows 58 seals were shot by Scottish Seafarms, which supplies Marks & Spencer. Hjaltland Seafarms/Grieg Seafood shot 38, and the Scottish Salmon Company killed 23.
A regional breakdown shows that Shetland accounts for almost half (49 per cent) of all seal killings over the period, followed by Orkney (15 per cent) and Argyll & Bute (14 per cent).
Don Staniford, director of the Global Alliance Against Institutional Aquaculture, which pressed for the FoI disclosures, said Scottish salmon was “dripping with the blood of dozens of seals.” “Thanks to the Scottish Information Commissioner, the public can read all the gory details for the first time and boycott seal unfriendly Scottish salmon,” he added.
“Salmon farmers may be armed with guns but the public has an even more powerful weapon - Freedom of Information.”
Scottish Seafarms declined to comment but a spokesman for Marks & Spencer said neither it nor its suppliers had “any wish” to see seals harmed.
A spokesman for Hjaltland said that the company had lost £3m of salmon to seal attacks throughout 2013 and 2014 after the mammals attacked cages, killed fish and tore holes in nets.
He said the company had installed “predator nets” in the worst affected sites which had resulted in a drastic reduction in the number of shootings.
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Salmon Company said it applied “rigorous measures” to “exclude and deter persistent predator attacks.”
She added: “The action highlighted was taken as a last resort under a government licence over a two-year period, when rogue seals persistently interfered with the integrity of the nets. We have implemented an investment programme for nets and acoustic devices to ensure seals do not cause stress to or damage our fish.”