The Scottish Marine Bill and seals

The Scottish Marine Bill and seals: A licence to kill

The Seal Protection Group welcomes the provisions of the Scottish Marine Bill that will help greater protect our seas and wildlife. However, we are extremely disappointed that the Scottish Government has not seized this opportunity to fundamentally change the law, and with it attitudes, in order to greater protect our globally important seal populations.A shot seal lies dead on a Scottish beach

The proposed licensing scheme for the killing of seals may reduce the indiscriminate shooting and otherwise killing of seals, but it will not end it.  We will be watching closely to see how the licensing scheme develops. We note with concern that the Government is not prepared to prescribe non-lethal methods of deterring seals, or other proposals intended to address cruelty issues, such as banning the shooting of seals in the breeding seasons to save dependent pups from starvation.

We are further concerned that the debate over the licensing system did not include discussion of the ongoing Moray Firth Management Plan (MFMP), a programme involving the targeted killing of seals, and a cull in everything but name, that the Government wishes to expand throughout Scotland. We are seeking an explanation as to how the new licensing scheme and the MFMP will be integrated to ensure that seals are not simply culled where licences are not granted.

The Seal Protection Action Group has written to the Scottish Government asking for reassurances that the proposed licensing scheme will be fully transparent and that licences will only be granted in the most exceptional of circumstances i.e. where all possible non-lethal alternatives have been tried and demonstrably failed. Additionally, we are demanding that no licences be issued during the breeding seasons for grey and common seals.

We are also calling for increased funding for research, development and mandatory deployment of non-lethal devices to deter seals and other predators that are attracted to aquaculture sites, salmon netting stations and sports angling rivers. In particular, we seek the urgent replacement of Acoustic Deterrent Devices (ADDs) already widely in use that are known to be harmful to seals and other marine life, especially cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises).

We are aware of an extremely promising new ADD, that has been developed and laboratory tested, which is believed to be extremely effective in deterring seals without harming them or other wildlife. We are working with a leading salmon retailer and salmon producer to field-trial this device.  However, we would like to see this equipment trialled on a large scale and for its use to be made mandatory if it is proven to be as effective as it promises to be.

The Seal Protection Action Group was founded to oppose the mass culling of seals in Scotland some three decades ago – culls that provoked a huge public outcry. Since then, the systematic slaughter of seals has continued undercover, unabated and enshrined by law. We see no reason why the Scottish salmon industry, which is worth hundreds of millions of pounds, cannot invest in and resolve an issue that is harmful to Scotland’s image and taints Scottish salmon products.

If the Scottish Government and salmon industry collude in order to continue the killing of seals, then Scotland and Scottish salmon products are likely to become targets for public boycott campaigns as a consequence. We sincerely hope that this can be avoided and that they will work together to resolve this issue as a matter of absolute urgency.

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