Scotland has just banned the shooting of seals by the fisheries industry in a move that the Humane Society International/UK calls “critically important for seal welfare in British waters.”
Tragically, large numbers of seals are shot in Scotland every year in the name of so-called “protecting” commercial fish farms and fisheries. HSI has long been highly critical of this cull on welfare grounds, highlighting the lack of independent oversight, potential under-reporting of numbers of seals killed, the killing of pregnant females and mothers who may have dependent pups.
The penalty for illegal seal shooting has also been increased to 12 months imprisonment and a £40,000 fine, or on indictment, an unlimited fine and 5 years imprisonment.
Since the licensing requirement for seal shooting took effect in 2011, Scottish government figures suggest that 1,917 seals have been shot in pursuit of “fisheries protection.” The actual death toll is likely higher because of potential underreporting and a lack of independent verification of seals killed.
The timing of this ban is linked to regulatory requirements under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) that come into effect in January 2022; meaning that Scotland would not be permitted to continue its lucrative salmon exports to the United States after 2022 if it still allowed seal shooting.
“An alarming number of seals are shot and killed in Scottish waters, and there is evidence that some are likely to be injured and die a slow and painful death at sea and may not show up in the official statistics,” Humane Society International’s Senior Marine Scientist, Mark Simmonds OBE, said in a statement. “HSI has worked for many years to provide the solid scientific evidence needed to demonstrate the welfare impact on seals.”
“We share our seas with these charismatic marine mammals, and it is simply unacceptable to kill them for eating the fish in their ocean home,” continued Simmonds. “It is important that this ban comes swiftly into force and that the situation is carefully and independently monitored to ensure that there is not a spike in seal killing in the run-up to its implementation, or indeed, illegal killing afterwards. Benign methods to keep seals away from fish farms will need to be deployed and carefully observed to ensure that they are safe.”
The UK is home to two seal species: the grey seal and the harbor or common seal.
Grey seals are among the rarest seals in the world, and the UK population of some 124,000 grey seals represents approximately 40% of the world population, and 95% of the EU population. There are pup nurseries on many coasts between the Isles of Scilly in the south-west, clockwise to Donna Nook in Lincolnshire. The largest being in the Inner and Outer Hebrides, Orkney, Isle of May, Farne Islands, and Donna Nook. Less than 15% of pups are born away from the above areas, but there is also an important breeding population on the west Wales coast.
The UK is also home to at least 33,400 harbor seals, and while there has been a recovery, there is concern about declines in some populations. The UK population represents about 5% of the world population, approximately 50% of the EU population, and 45% of the European subspecies.
Sadly, seals also face a multitude of other threats, including entanglement in fishing gear, marine litter, pollution, and disturbance on their breeding and moulting grounds.
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