The Scottish Government has launched an investigation after a bullet shell was found during an inspection of a fish farm off North Uist.
Inspectors also noted “multiple sightings of seals near the cages” while they were at Groatay, and added the site was “experiencing seal predation”.
A Scottish Government spokesperson confirmed to The Ferret that an investigation — led by Marine Scotland — is underway following the inspection at the site.
Mowi has strongly denied any wrongdoing and said it is not aware of the ongoing investigation.
The company’s communications director, Ian Roberts, said: “Our farmers understand and fully comply with the laws that govern our business, and all firearms had been removed from the farm sites when the Scottish Government implemented the ban [on shooting seals] in January last year.
“The bullet casing found on one of our farm sites in July was severely degraded and appeared to be several years old.”
Critics of the salmon farming industry called for a “robust” probe into the matter and for the Scottish Government to take appropriate action if there is any evidence that seals have been illegally shot at Groatay.
Seals have previously been shot by licensed farmers to prevent them breaking into salmon pens and eating the fish.
But killing a seal with a gun to protect farmed salmon in Scotland has been illegal since February 2021 after the government stopped granting licences to people to shoot them.
Ministers stopped granting licences for the shooting of seals due to fears that the US would stop importing Scottish salmon. America is banning imports from countries that allow seals to be killed to protect fisheries.
Scotland’s salmon exports to the US are worth nearly £200m each year.
The Ferret reported in April 2021 that a £10,000 reward was put up for information on the illegal shooting of seals after Scottish Salmon Watch matched a £5,000 reward offered by the charity Animal Concern.
The fish farming industry has previously said that it takes animal welfare seriously and has been investing in non-lethal deterrents for seals “for years”.
The FHI report for Groatay states that nylon nets were in use at the site and that the farm had plans to put more in place. Nets are used to protect fish from seals without the need for culling.
However, Don Staniford, who is the director of $camon $cotland, formerly known as Scottish Salmon Watch, said that the investigation might “jeopardise” the Scottish salmon industry’s exports to the US.
“The killing of seals is not only illegal but it’s ethically and morally wrong,” he added.
Animal Concern said the discovery of the shell was “deeply concerning” and called for a “robust” investigation by Marine Scotland.
A spokesperson said: “We will await with interest Marine Scotland’s findings and will be calling on the Scottish Government to take the appropriate action those conclusions suggest.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “An investigation is currently underway following an inspection at Groatay Fish Farm. As this is a live investigation, no further comment can be made at this time”.
Police Scotland said there is no police involvement in the investigation.
Cover image thanks to Thomas Bonometti