THERE have been renewed calls to end the shooting of seals in Scotland after it emerged that the animals are being killed in secret to protect marksmen from attacks by animal rights campaigners.
The Scottish Government said it was not releasing the locations of salmon farms which are licensed to shoot seals because it feared they would be targeted by protesters, claiming there was a “strong likelihood” of activists taking direct action against “individuals employed at sites where seals have been shot”.
The government singled out David Scott, a leading activist with ocean conservation group Sea Shepherd UK, claiming that he had made a “scarcely veiled threat” that he would act to prevent the shooting of seals.
However, the government’s claims were branded “ludicrous” by Mr Scott, who reportedly said that while he would happily stand between a “licensed killer and his intended victim”, he would not break any laws.
He added: “This is blatant scaremongering with zero corroborative evidence and is a gross insult to an organisation which has never harmed a single person in its entire 35-year history.”
The row comes a year after the government introduced licensing for seal shooting to control and reduce the numbers killed to safeguard fish stocks.
Campaign groups urged officials to ban shooting outright, alleging that the real reason sites were kept secret was to reduce the risk of more widespread opposition.
Andy Ottaway of the Seal Protection Action Group, said: “I might understand if they were reluctant to release the names of marksmen for fear that their homes might be targeted, and we certainly don’t condone any action of that kind, but I don’t think this has anything to do with protecting marksmen. Who is going to harass a man with a gun?
“The government doesn’t want this practice to be witnessed or captured on film because if it was there would be a much larger public outcry. This would not be an issue if they stopped shooting altogether, which is what we have been calling for all along.”
Licenses for killing seals were introduced in 2011 following concern that thousands of the creatures were being shot indiscriminately without regulation.
Eight fish farms have been given permission under the scheme this year to kill seals as a last resort measure once other methods such as high tension nets designed to keep the mammals out have failed.
Recent government statistics revealed 105 seals have been shot at fish farms in 2012, with another 137 seals shot at netting stations and river fisheries.
Just under 460 seals were shot in the first year of the scheme, far less than the maximum limit of 1,340. This year the limit has been reduced to 1,100 seals.
The Scottish Government maintained yesterday that locations were kept quiet because of fears over activists’ response.
A spokesman said: “This [policy of secrecy] is due to the risks of individual fisheries or fish farms, or their employees, being identified and becoming the target of action by interest groups.”