I just read an interesting tweet from @SealScotland, a campaigning group who aims “to protect Scotland’s seals while also raising the profile of Scotland’s seals and seals in general plus to promote a positive view of Scotland for the tourism industry who also wish to see an end to the seal killings”. The tweet asked if viewers had wondered why “@VisitScotland have dropped seals from their advertising?” and urges us to look at this year’s new licences granted by the Scottish Government to kill seals – entirely (and not remotely unexpectedly) to protect the interests of Scottish fish farmers.
It turns out that while the total numbers of seals that might be killed is down compared with the unrestricted slaughter that used to take place several decades ago, Marine Scotland received 59 applications for seal licences. 58 licences were granted, including 2 still pending issue. Again according to Marine Scotland, the maximum number of seals involved is 805 Grey and 274 Common – which they appear to imply really isn’t very many out of the total seal population.
That, I would suggest depends on your point of view on ‘culling’, how you feel about the heavy environmental impact of fish farming, whether or not you have any faith in a system that puts the onus on fish farm owners to report the number of seals killed (to quote from a handy FAQs, “The Act requires each licensee to submit a quarterly report on the numbers of seals shot under licence and where possible recover carcases”), and whether you think hard-pressed enforcement officers will be able to constantly monitor even the subdivision of “227 individual fish farms” issued licences under what is called ‘health and welfare’ concerns?
‘Health and welfare’? An interesting concept where fish farms are concerned. A sceptical person like myself might just ask exactly what those ‘health and welfare’ concerns might be when talking about an industry which has had its own widely-reported ‘health and welfare’ problems…
Not health and welfare of seals, it turns out, because wouldn’t you know it seals eat fish and the industry says that is plainly bad for the health of farmed fish. To quote from those FAQs again, “This is necessary because seals predate on fish and this results in interactions between seals and fisheries and fish farms which can result in serious damage to fisheries and fish farms and negative impacts on the health and welfare of farmed fish. Fisheries and fish farms must be able to protect their stocks and gear from seals and whilst non-lethal measures are preferred these are not effective in all cases and the option of killing remains necessary as a last resort“.
Yes, with barely a hint of irony an industry that is…
- breeding unnaturally fat, discoloured (colourant needs to be added to the diet to make farmed salmon pink for consumers), and damaged fish (according to the Scottish Executive a farm salmon can be distinguished from a wild salmon by deformities: ragged fins, foreshortened head and damage to gill covers);
- wiping out fish stocks in the South Atlantic (a farmed fish such as a salmon needs about three times its own body weight in wild caught fish to reach full size, many of which are now caught in the Atlantic ocean – “Every bite of salmon can be as much as 10 bites of jack mackerel” a rapidly disappearing fish species that has undergone a 63% decline since 2006);
- is loading the water around fish farms with so many sea lice that they are literally eating migrating wild fish alive;
- and that helps spread Infectious Pancreatic Necrosis (IPN) a viral disease that now kills tens of thousands of farmed fish (check out Fish mortalities on Lewis fish farms to get a glimpse into the numbers involved, or just note that “In Scotland, the prevalence of IPNV infection is very high in farmed Atlantic salmon in sea water” from The Fish Site.com);
…has the temerity to suggest that Seals need to be killed on health and welfare grounds because seals eat fish: seals, which most people will probably know, actually depend on the rapidly vanishing fish in the ocean rather than just fancy them for supper for a change.
Well, that all seems fair then…NOT.
And if, as Seal Scotland says, the national tourist board has dropped any mention of seals from their advertising because of these licences (there’s certainly no seal on the homepage of their website when I looked just now, though bewilderingly there IS a photo of a Tiger in a snowy woodland setting!) is there really any wonder…
For more on the seal culls visit Seal Scotland. Feature photo taken from Seal Scotland website.