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article imageCulling seals to protect salmon causes anger

By Tim Sandle     Apr 15, 2015 in Environment
Edinburgh - This year in Scotland, so far, some 205 seals have been legally killed by farmers in order to protect their fish stocks. The issue has proved controversial with many environmentalists.
The reason that some farmers wish to control seal populations is to protect salmon stocks, which have a high economic value (the Scottish salmon industry is quite lucrative.)
According to The Daily Telegraph, over a quarter of the seals killed along the U.K. coast were shot by RSPCA-accredited fish farmers. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) is the primary animal welfare organization in Britain. It has powers to bring prosecutions.
The culls were undertaken as part of the RSPCA’s “Freedom Food initiative.” This scheme is focused on improving conditions for farm animals. The seals killed are a mix of harbor seals and gray seals. Over four years, some 1,400 seals have been shot (as noted by the Daily Record.)
Some members of the RSPCAS are reportedly angry with the killing of seals, and have further argued that the 205 recorded culls is probably an underestimate in Scotland, due to haphazard reporting. They also note that in England, there is no requirement to record the number of seals killed.
One fishing industry source said angry RSPCA members had raised the issue at their annual meeting, while campaigners claimed that the statistics could run to a greater total, as kills were not recorded in the rest of the UK.
Other environmental groups are also angry with the shooting of seals. Andy Ottaway of the Seal Protection Action Group told the website The Dodo: “If people knew the price that was being paid by seals for salmon they wouldn't be prepared to buy them.”
Instead of shooting seals, Ottaway proposes that the salmon industry uses seal-proof nets to deflect seals. Another campaign group, called Seal Scotland, argues that the farmers have got things wrong and that seals do not target salmon farms. The group states: "Seals are known to be opportunistic feeders, but on the whole they do not eat the same fish that fishermen commercially target."
Commenting on the concerns, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (a branch of the British government) issued a statement to the Daily Express (which unfortunately sidesteps the Scottish issue.) The statement runs: "In England and Wales, fishermen have the right to take emergency measures to protect their fishing equipment or catch, however laws only allow for limited, local action against problem seals. The latest data shows that seal populations are rising in English waters.”
The debate about the number of seals culled is likely to continue into the summer. A series of protests are being organized by Seal Scotland which are sure to make the news headlines.
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