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Protest demands seal “ceasefire” 

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Hans J Marter

26 November, 2008

ACTIVISTS targeted Holyrood yesterday (Tuesday) stepping up their campaign to ban fish farmers and fishermen from shooting seals.

Dressed as seals, the protesters called for an immediate and comprehensive ban on the deliberate killing of seals throughout Britain.

The campaigners, led by the Seal Protection Action Group (SPAG), unfurled a banner reading ‘CEASEFIRE FOR SEALS’ outside the Scottish Parliament and handed in a letter addressed to ‘Alex Salmon’.

The group claims that an estimated 5,000 seals are shot in Scottish waters each year by fish farm and fisheries interests, a figure fiercely disputed by the salmon farming industry.

The letter was signed by 27 conservation and animal welfare charities including the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), Advocates for Animals, PETA Europe, Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), Animal Aid, British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR), Animal Concern, International Animal Rescue (IAR), Save our Seals Fund, Seawatch Foundation and Care for the Wild amongst many others. The letter has also been supported by the Labour Animal Welfare Society and Scottish Green Party.

Recently scientists from the Sea Mammal Research Unit revealed what they described as a “frightening” decline in the number of common seals around the UK coast. Under present legislation – The Conservation of Seals Act (1970) - fish farmers can shoot seals, even during the breeding season, to prevent ‘damage’ to equipment or stock.

The campaigners said that fish farmers can deter seals and other predators by using properly maintained, tensioned nets and other devices, without resorting to lethal methods.

“Scientific evidence now supports our view that this culture of killing seals must stop,” said Andy Ottaway, of SPAG. “We are calling for a ceasefire for seals with immediate effect and the comprehensive protection of our disappearing seal populations from deliberate killing before it is too late.”

David Sandison, the manager of Aquaculture Shetland, the body that represents the islands’ fish farming interests said SPAG’s figures were fundamentally flawed.

He said the industry was unfairly targetted and environmental campaigners had no evidence to back up their claims.

“We have no basis whatsoever to believe that the 5,000 figure is in any way underpinned by reality. I don’t know where it is coming from and frankly is wrong. There is no way that that amount of shooting of seals goes on.

“Shooting of seals is legal and from to time it has to happen. It is a similar situation to when a fox gets into a henhouse or how the population of red dear is controlled to preserve parts of the natural countryside.

“If you are a fish farmer ultimately you do the best you can with the equipment you have got to protect you stock. We have extremely robust net systems around our cages which are not likely to let predators in, but seals can be very persistent, and when they are and get into a cage they can cause untold damage,” he said.

He added that in the industry’s opinion there were many other factors for the seal population in Scotland to fall, including the impact feeding killer whales might have on seal numbers.

He said that seal numbers were also falling in areas with no salmon farming interests.

The campaigners have also called on major retailers such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer to insist that seals are not shot by their salmon suppliers. Sainsbury’s, the market leaders in Scottish salmon sales have just committed to end seal shooting as quickly as possible and are calling on their competitors to follow their lead.

In January of this year a public opinion poll found that 75 per cent of the Scottish public support making the killing of seals being illegal in Scottish waters with only 12 per cent supporting fish farmers and fishermen’s right to kill them.

“Until the governments protect our seals as they surely must, we are also calling on the public to avoid Scottish salmon unless they can be assured that no seals have been killed. We know they support our view that dead seals are too high a price to pay for Scottish salmon.”

Most recent update - Monday, 05 January 2009 21:47
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