New probe on seal protection law –

New probe on seal protection law Published:  08 March, 2007

CHANGES in seal protection laws could be on the cards after claims that existing rules are redundant.

Last week saw a rare meeting of the Scottish Seals Forum with

representatives from fishing, aquaculture, scientific and animal welfare communities gathering to discuss the 1970 Conservation of Seals Act.

The Act was drawn up to protect Scotland’s grey and common seals, who represent around 90 per cent of the UK population of both species.

Last year the Sea Mammal Research Unit discovered that common seal populations in Shetland and Orkney had fallen by an astonishing 40 per cent over the past decade.

Welfare groups, like Advocates for Animals (AA), believe the act is

redundant. Last year the Sheriff of Arbroath said there was no case to

answer in the trial of a fisherman who had shot a seal resting on sandbank a mile from the nearest fishing net.

Today, AA presented a paper to the forum drawn up by a coalition of 15 animal welfare groups calling for the existing law to be reviewed.

AA’s Ross Minett said there had been huge changes since the law was passed, and the development of fish farming had made a crucial difference to the welfare of seals.

“In many areas of Scotland common seal populations are in serious decline, although the reasons for this are not known,” Mr Minett said.

“Yet thousands of seals are thought to be routinely killed every year by members of the fishing, fish farming and salmon angling industries.

Surprisingly, nobody actually knows how many seals of each species are

killed, or where, when or why they are killed, as there is no requirement for records to be kept.”

The fishing industry has always denied slaughtering seals, though last

September police were called in to investigate the shooting of five seals, four of them pregnant, in a remote corner of Orkney.

In Shetland evidence has been found of seal traps around fish cages in the past two years, though no one has been prosecuted.

In Moray the river fishermen have put in place a management plan where they kill rogue seals, which even conservationists believe could be proving to be a success.

Alan Knight, of British Divers Marine Life Rescue, said: “The fishermen in Moray Firth seem to be identifying the seals which are a problem and taking them out and it seems to be working.”

SEERAD has agreed to look further at proposals put forward by the animal welfare coalition, which include licensing guns used to shoot seals, defining where seals can be shot and making it a requirement to officially record each seal which is killed.

A SEERAD spokesman said the Scottish Seals Forum had “agreed to ask its working group, which is due to meet in May 2007, to consider in more detail what a possible review of the 1970 Act might involve and whether the production of interim guidance on some issues might be useful”.

Libby Anderson, who co-authored the paper presented to the forum, said: “The Conservation of Seals Act 1970 is a relic of an era when attitudes to the killing of wild mammals were different, and much less was known about the population dynamics and global importance of seals in UK waters.

“The Act is seen as providing guidance on the killing of seals, rather than as legislation to promote their conservation.

“Seals in British waters are a very important asset to the growing wildlife tourism industry, and they need better legal protection.

“We believe that the time has come to replace an existing outdated and

unenforceable law with more effective legislation that will deliver the desired conservation and animal welfare benefits. We hope that the Scottish Seals Forum will support our efforts for improved legislation that will effectively protect seals in Scottish waters.”

Until 1998 there had been a steady increase and then levelling off of the common seal population, leading the government to lift the blanket ban on shooting seals in Shetland, which was introduced in 1973.