Police Scotland is investigating an incident in March when a seal was allegedly shot at a fish farm off a west coast island.
A report was submitted to police by Scottish Salmon Watch (SSW) after a whistleblower alleged a seal was shot on 17 March. A seal pup was also present but it was not shot, SSW was told.
The Ferret cannot name the fish farm for legal reasons.
There have long been conflicts between seals and the salmon farming industry because seals attempt to get into farm cages to eat salmon.
Scotland’s salmon industry says it takes animal welfare extremely seriously, pointing out firms have been investing in “non-lethal deterrents” for years. Fish farms have used nets, scarers and guns to stop seals eating fish.
But killing a seal with a gun to protect farmed salmon in Scotland has been illegal since 1 February 2021 after the Scottish Government stopped granting licences to people to shoot them.
The move was to save Scotland’s £180 million business exporting salmon to the US, which is banning imports from countries that allow seals to be killed to protect fisheries.
SSW asked for an investigation to be conducted. Its complaint said: “Scottish Salmon Watch would like to officially report the killing of a seal at a salmon farm on 17 March 2021. A baby pup was outside the cage and was not killed but presumably died since they became orphaned.”
The report was submitted by SSW’s director, Don Staniford. He said: “The killing of seals is morally bankrupt at the best of times. But to continue to slaughter seals illegally after the Scottish Government banned seal killing in January is abhorrent.
“Salmon farmers in Scotland have killed over 1,000 seals legally since official reporting began in 2011 but this is just the tip of the iceberg with illegal slaughter known to be widespread.”
A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “We can confirm that a report has been received and the information is being assessed.”
The Scottish Government said that following changes to the Marine (Scotland) Act, ministers can no longer grant licences authorising the killing of seals for protecting farmed fish.
“This is therefore a matter for Police Scotland to investigate. Those found guilty of breaking the new laws could face a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment, an unlimited fine, or both,” a government spokesperson added.
In April, as reported by The Ferret, a £10,000 reward was put up for information on the illegal shooting of seals after SSW matched a £5,000 reward offered by Animal Concern. Both campaign groups fear illegal activity may continue, despite the ban. The reward will be paid out if information leads to a successful prosecution of a salmon farmer who kills a seal.
John Robins of Animal Concern said: “For forty years I have had a good relationship with many workers on salmon farms. People go to work on the farms under the false impression that the farms meet the mythical environmentally friendly image promoted by the owners and their very clever PR officers.
“When workers see the reality of salmon farming the only way they can do anything about it without losing their jobs is to tip-off organisations like ours.
The Ferret reported last year the number of seals shot by the fish farming industry doubled ahead of the ban, prompting fears of a “killing spree”. Official figures revealed salmon farmers killed 31 seals in the first three months of 2020, compared to 15 in the same period in 2019.
The Scottish Salmon Producers Association (SSPO) says that in 2018 more than 500,000 salmon were killed by seals and thousands more fish died of stress following attacks. Since 2011 the number of seals legally shot by the Scottish salmon sector went down by 73 per cent, the SSPO says.
Changes to the Marine Scotland Act 2010 came into force on 1 February 2021 and removed two reasons for which licences to kill seals could be granted – protecting the health and welfare of farmed fish and preventing serious damage to fisheries and fish farms.
Photo thanks to iStock and Ian Dyball.