Keeping the seals out and the salmon in
WITH an imminent US import ban on salmon from fish farms that shoot seals, pressure is mounting in Scotland to find new ways to prevent predators from penetrating their nets. Seals can each eat 3-7kg (6.6-15.4lbs) of food per day, depending on the species, and over the years the holes they bite through the nets have released hundreds of thousands of farmed fish into the wild.
Currently, fish farms are licensed to shoot seals in Scotland, but only as a ‘last resort’ when the mammals persist beyond all other preventative measures.
Now, US legislation, due to be applied to imports from 2022, will ban any seafood produced in contravention of its rules on animal welfare, which prohibit the shooting of seals. There are ‘no ifs, no buts, no bullets,’ as one conservation group put it.
It is concentrating minds at home, as fish farms must find alternative ways to protect farmed salmon stocks from predators.
The economic incentive is huge. The US is the world’s largest importer of seafood, buying about $20 billion of product every year, including Scottish salmon worth £193 million last year – the industry’s second most lucrative export market.
Nearly all salmon farms in Scotland are likely to be affected by the ban. The annual economic value of Scottish salmon passed the £1 billion mark for the first time last year, and the active farms support more than 10,000 jobs, many of which are in rural communities.
The Scottish government had tried, and failed, to secure an exemption for Scottish fish farms, according to a BBC report last year. Officials argued the rules in Scotland do not allow the ‘reckless’ shooting of seals, and the intention is not to reduce the overall seal population.
However, their efforts were unsuccessful, as the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration listed Scotland’s industry under the ban.
The Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy, Fergus Ewing, had voiced hopes that killing seals may become unnecessary in the near future, as fish farms deploy innovative technology that scares, or stops, seals from stealing fish from the nets.
There seems to be growing evidence for his optimism. Government figures show salmon farms have shot more than 800 seals since 2011, but recently numbers per year are falling.
In Shetland, salmon producers say they are confident 2019 could be the first year in the industry’s history that no seals will be shot in