Net worth

Keep­ing the seals out and the salmon in

Fish Farmer - - Contents - Editor’s Welcome - BY SANDY NEIL

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

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