Fighting to save the lives of seals by aiming to replace the Conservation of Seals Act 1970 with a Protection of Seals Act.

The Seals

Seal Hunting in the UK

Mother seal and pup

Mother seal and pup

Historically people in the UK hunted seals for meat, oil and fur. As the price of seal fur rose so did the level of exploitation. By the early 1900s commercial hunting had reduced seal populations to critically low numbers. Grey Seals were hunted almost to extinction in the UK and became the first mammal to be protected by law - the Grey Seals Protection Act of 1914.

Seal Culls in the UK

Fishermen blame seals for competing with them for fish stocks. From 1962 to 1983 there was an annual cull of Grey Seals. This was eventually stopped due to a public outcry and a collapse of the market for seal skins.

Seals versus Fisheries

Scientific research on the diet of seals has shown they are opportunistic feeders. Much of their diet does not consist of fish species which commercial fishermen target. It has been estimated that seals in the North Sea account for only 2% of fish stocks annually, compared to 25% to 30% by the fishing industry. Despite a lack of data linking commercial fish stock reductions to changes in seal numbers, some fishermen would still like a massive cull of seals.

The Conservation of Seals Act 1970

In 1970 the Conservation of Seals Act (CSA) came into force. This quickly became known by many as the "Seals Con Act". Loopholes built into the CSA allow fishery interests to kill seals throughout the year, including the breeding seasons. They can even shoot seals in Special Areas of Conservation. In nearly 40 years, there has only ever been one successful prosecution under the Act. That was won on a technicality as the salmon farmer involved used the wrong type of gun. Animal welfare and conservation organisations want the Conservation of Seals Act replaced with a Protection of Seals Act giving seals real protection from being shot.

Fin Fish Farming and Seals

Marine fin fish aquaculture became established in Scotland in the 1970’s. The government of the time saw fish farming as the savour of remote rural communities. Little was done to assess the environmental impact of these floating factory farms.

The environmental impact was devastating. Fish farms relied on routine use of toxic pesticides, cleaning chemicals, medications and colourants. Nearly five tonnes of wild fish were required to produce just one tonne of edible salmon. Fish farms caused huge localised increases in sea-lice and introduced vast amounts of fish faeces and other pollutants into the ecosystem. Millions of genetically inferior salmon escaped with the potential to devastate wild salmon populations.

In addition, fish farmers were left uncontested whilst using the provisions of Conservation of Seals Act, those provisions intended for fishermen, to shoot large numbers of seals.

Anti-Predator Nets

Seal predation on fish farms can be stopped by using properly tensioned and maintained anti-predator nets. However, these are not currently required by law and are expensive. Many fish farmers attempt to save money by continuing to shoot large numbers of seals instead of installing and maintaining appropriate anti-predator nets.

Seals and Wild Salmon

Seals are routinely shot by netsmen as they intercept wild salmon migrating to the rivers where they breed. Salmon angling authorities also shoot seals at river estuaries.

Disease

People with guns are not the only risk facing Common Seals. There have been two major outbreaks of Phocine Distemper Virus (PDV) in recent years. In 1988 over 23,000 died in European waters and a further 30,000 died in the 2002 outbreak.

Between 2001 and 2006 several areas of Scotland saw a large and significant reduction in Common Seal numbers of over 40% though the reason for this has not been identified.

Tourism

Tourism is vital to rural and island economies, especially in Scotland. A visitor survey in 2000 showed approximately 60% of tourists opposed culling seals. Many stated that a cull would affect their decision to visit Scotland in the future. The shooting of seals damages a growing wildlife-watching industry.

Current Campaign

Shot seal

Seal Friendly Salmon
Our Seal Friendly Salmon Campaign aims to highlight that seals are being shot during salmon production in the UK.
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