Seal ‘scarer device’ backed by MSPs

About 250 seals are shot dead each year as they chew through protective nets to attack salmon farms on coastal lochs. Picture: Getty
About 250 seals are shot dead each year as they chew through protective nets to attack salmon farms on coastal lochs. Picture: Getty
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The creation of “seal scarer” alarms aimed at bringing an end to the controversial shooting of seals on fish farms in Scotland has been backed by MSPs.

Almost 250 seals were shot dead in 2011 as they attacked salmon farms, but a Scottish Government-funded system being developed at St Andrews University looks like it may provide a “viable solution”, a report by MSPs today finds.

Scottish ministers were ordered to reveal the names of fish farms that shoot seals by Information Commissioner Rosemary Agnew who rejected concerns it could lead to reprisals from animal rights campaigners.

Wildlife campaigners say the death-rate does the fish farming industry “no favours” and has called for change.

The Scottish Government has recently funded a new audio “seal scarer” which keeps seals away from farms with causing any long-term damage. Previous noise deterrents have proved ineffective as seals get used to them, but the new device continues to “work over time”.

The university has secured an investor for commercialisation of the new audio device and signed a licence for it in December last year, it emerged in a report by Holyrood’s rural affairs and environment committee into the proposed Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) bill.

Dr John Armstrong of Marine Scotland told MSPs: “A Scottish Government-sponsored research project showed, through captive experiments, that seals can be deterred by many sounds but that this effect can gradually disappear over time.

“The new deterrent involves a ‘startle stimulus’ which continues to work over time.”

The report says MSPs are “encouraged that the device has secured investment and a technology licence that may see it established on the market as a viable solution for the aquaculture industry”.

Seals are able to chew their way through the giant nets at salmon farms located in coastal lochs around Scotland to eat the fish inside.

Producers say it plays havoc with stocks and was responsible for about a third of the 416,000 fish that escaped from farms in 2011.

Previous audio devices have also scared away dolphins and porpoises.

Steve Bracken, of fish company Marine Harvest, told MSPs that new audio devices are emerging all the time, but said there were inconsistencies when these are used on fish farms.

“Seals can get accustomed to the noise, so it is down to the farm manager to use his judgement on how best to deploy the device on his farm,” he explained.

The committee is now calling for the Scottish Government to work with industry chiefs to establish guidelines for the use of audio devices, which is as “humane as possible for seals”.

Alex Kinninmonth, the Living Seas Policy Officer with the Scottish Wildlife Trust told MSPs that 242 seals were killed at fish farms in Scotland last year.

“That is no good for wildlife and frankly it does the industry no favours,” he said.