North Isles ban on shooting common seals –

North Isles ban on shooting common seals Published:  23 March, 2007

THE Scottish Executive is protecting common seals in the Northern Isles after numbers dropped by more than 40% in the past decade.

Today the Executive is extending the closed season on shooting common seals in Shetland and Orkney to last the whole year. The Conservation of Seals (Scotland) Order 2007 also applies to parts of the coast between Stonehaven and Dunbar.

Under the order, shooting common seals will only be possible with a licence from the executive or to protect fishing nets or catches.

The move has been welcomed in the islands where concern has been growing about the health of the common seal population.

Jan Bevington, of Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary, Shetland, said she was

delighted with the order, but was not sure it would halt the decline in common seals.

“We have been very concerned about the common seals, especially in the last five to ten years. The baby seals we have had in have not been anywhere near as big or robust as they used to be and they don’t seem to have the will to live that they used to,” Ms Bevington said.

“We are thinking more down the line that there are problems with their

immune system, but lots of contributory factors probably come in to play. This drop in numbers is very worrying so anything that can be done to help is welcome.”

Meanwhile, six Shetland fish farms have signed a conservation agreement with Scottish Natural Heritage and Shetland Islands Council to help protect seals and otters in Yell Sound, a Marine Special Area of Conservation (MSAC).

Under the agreement, the companies promise to introduce exclusion zones around their farms and suspend non-routine and non-essential work during breeding and moulting seasons. The firms involved are Johnson Seafarms, Collafirth Salmon Ltd, HAH Ltd, Hunter Shellfish Ltd, C&S Mussels Ltd and Hjaltland Seafarms Ltd.

They are also operating specific measures to help the common seals,

including stopping the use of acoustic seal deterrents in the area,

operating from a single shore base and assisting SNH gather scientific data on the seals.

General manager of trades body Shetland Aquaculture, David Sandison, said the fish farms could act as the eyes and ears of the conservation movement.

“The companies operating within the area of the MSAC are there 365 days a year. They are in a great position to observe the wildlife and assist in meeting the objectives of the designation for otters and seals,” Mr Sandison said.

“This plan will help resolve any concerns Scottish Natural Heritage may have over the level of human activity.”

Karen Hall, of Scottish Natural Heritage, said: “We consider that common seal numbers are showing a decline and consequently, we are keen to minimise disturbance which could cause further threat to the seal population.

“We are fortunate to have a close working relationship with Shetland’s

aquaculture industry and appreciate the efforts made by the operators in the Yell MSAC area.”

Figures from the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) indicate that between 2001 and 2006 common seals numbers have fallen from 4,883 to 3,021 in Shetland, and from 7,752 to 4,256 in Orkney. Since 2002, the numbers in the Firth of Tay have dropped from 668 to 342.

The executive says no single factor is likely to blame for the decline, and there is no proof that shooting seals or the 2002 outbreak of seal phocine distemper has coloured the picture.

The executive, SNH and SMRU have said they will monitor the effectiveness of the new order and consider research into the possible causes of the decline in common seal numbers.

In 1998, the Labour government dropped the year round shooting ban on common seals in Shetland. is published by Special Publications. Special Publications also publish FISHupdate magazine, Fish Farmer, the Fish Industry Yearbook, the Scottish Seafood Processors Federation Diary, the Fish Farmer Handbook and a range of wallplanners.