Scottish Sea Farms says it has reduced ‘last resort’ seal shootings by two thirds in the last two years thanks to a £5.7 million system of pen netting systems.
In the six months since February 2019, two of the animals have been killed at its 43 marine farms, a reduction of five compared with the same period last year, six compared with 2017 and seven compared with 2016.
Managing director Jim Gallagher said: “We won’t be happy until we achieve zero seal deaths, however our multi-million pound investment to roll out protective Seal Pro netting across as many of our farms as possible, as quickly as possible, is another example of our commitment to farm as responsibly and as sustainably as we can.
“Not only do the tougher, more rigid nets help to deter seals, but by protecting our salmon from the stress of predation and the subsequent health challenges that can cause, they also contribute to fish welfare.”
Scottish Sea Farms has equipped over half of its marine farms with Seal Pro nets at a cost of £4.2 million, with a further £1.5 million of nets to be deployed by October.
Included in the latest roll-out will be next generation Seal Pro Excel netting which has been engineered to be the strongest, most unyielding version yet offering even greater protection. Of the two farms that have seen seal shootings in this reporting period, one will be equipped with the new netting ahead of its latest crop next year while the other farm has had Seal Pro netting in place for over a year.
Scottish Sea Farms’ head of fish health Dr Ralph Bickerdike said: “Seals naturally feed on a variety of wild fish and other marine life and are thought to consume up to 7kg a day, depending on species.
“In the hunt for food, seals are occasionally relocating from farms that have Seal Pro nets to nearby farms that have previously had no significant seal challenge, hence our drive to protect all farms. We’ve also seen seals climb up and into pens. Both types of event happened earlier this year, accounting for the two shootings which were carried out under licence.”
The salmon grower has also recently begun trialling an ‘electric fish’ deterrent, pioneered by Dundee innovator Ace Aquatec. The device swims around the base of the net and deters predators by emitting a light-touch electrical current when bitten down on.