Hans J Marter
26 November, 2008
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
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 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
He said that seal numbers were also falling in areas with no salmon
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
“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.”