Seals launch ‘major’ attack on Scottish fish farm, killing thousands of salmon

More than half a million Scottish farmed salmon were killed by seals in year ending May 2020

Sam Hancock
Sunday 17 January 2021 20:40 GMT
The Skye-based salmon farm was due to have anti-predator nets installed later this month
The Skye-based salmon farm was due to have anti-predator nets installed later this month (Getty)

More than 52,000 fish were either killed or escaped during a “major” seal attack at a Scottish salmon farm.

The incident, which took place on New Year’s Eve, saw seals rip open nets and kill “many” juvenile fish, industry figures have since revealed – adding to the hundreds of thousands of salmon killed by seals in Scotland last year.  

This most recent attack occurred at a Skye-based farm, managed by the Scottish Salmon Company (SSC), which was due to have new anti-predator netting technology installed by the end of this month.

The SSC said it was now working with the local fisheries trust to recapture stock where possible, describing the event as “extremely disappointing”.  

A spokesman for the company said: “Our Portree site has recently been subject to persistent attacks from a large group of seals which, despite our best efforts, caused significant damage to one of our nets.

“Our staff moved quickly to repair this damage but unfortunately a number of fish escaped.

“All the members of our team at Portree are extremely disappointed, particularly given they have worked so diligently to maintain an excellent containment record at the site.”

Meanwhile, the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) said predation attacks continued to have a significant impact on fish health and welfare.

The company said recent legislation had reduced the methods available to fish farmers to manage predation including a ban on the use of “lethal controls” by farmers, a change which will come into effect in full at the end of January 2021.

Around 530,000 Scottish farmed salmon, worth around £13m, died due to seal attacks between May 2019 and May 2020 – either from incurring an attack or “indirectly from stress”, according to the SSPO. 

The organisation’s chief executive, Tavish Scott, said: “Salmon farms and seals can co-exist quite happily in the marine environment. Seals can, however, inflict vicious and widespread damage on salmon farms, killing significant numbers of fish in each attack.

“This distressing incident shows that our farmers need access to a range of effective tools and measures to deter seal attacks and protect their livestock.”

The company also said it would continue to urge Scotland’s government to allow its salmon farmers to have “full access to all available effective non-lethal measures if they are to fulfil their statutory duty to protect their fish”.

“Our sector is continuing to make substantial investments in new technologies and management methods which follow government regulations,” Mr Scott added.  

It was confirmed by SSPO that in the 12 months to May 2020, Scotland’s salmon farming sector invested up to £8.4m into preventing predator attacks and £5.3m into new generation anti-predator nets, according to the Fish Farming Expert website.

Anti-predation tools include acoustic deterrent devices, anti-predator netting, net tensioning and seal blinds. 

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