Following the introduction of new measures in 2011 to protect seals, including strict licensing conditions for seal shootings, indications are that the first year has worked well.

In the first three quarters of 2011, 362 seals were shot – 27 per cent of the permitted maximum under licence – considerably lower than estimates by environmental groups of over 3,000 seals each year prior to the new system. The measures are in place to control the removal of specific seals around fisheries and fish farm cages as a last resort measure.

Licences for 2012 will set a maximum of 1,100 seals, down 15 per cent on the total allowed in 2011. Around half of the licences granted are for fish farms and half for wild salmon rod and line or net fisheries.

Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said: “Scotland’s seals are an iconic species and that’s why we introduced a raft of new measures through the Marine Act 2010 to give seals extra protection, including the creation of seal conservation areas and moves to increase protection at seal haul-out sites.

“For the first time it was made illegal to shoot a seal unless a licence has been granted under very strict conditions. I’m pleased that the right balance between seal conservation and support for  important wild fisheries and our fish farming industry is being struck, with available data showing only around one quarter of the permitted seals under licence being removed.

“Marine Scotland assess all applicants before granting a licence to ensure appropriate alternative deterrents are in place first.  With a further fall in permitted totals for 2012, I’m confident that the guiding principle of last resort will continue to be closely adhered to.”

For 2012, 58 separate licences have been granted, with the maximum number of seals set at 1,100. In 2011 68 licences were granted with a total maximum of 1,340 seals. Marine Scotland assesses all applicants before a licence is given. Appropriate non-lethal alternatives must be considered first, which may include tensioned and predator nets, acoustic deterrents and seal blinds, or a combination of these.

Alongside seal licensing, the Scottish Government has introduced new seal conservation areas – in the Western Isles, Northern Isles, Moray Firth and along the East Coast. The Scottish Government is also taking progressing measures to increase protection for seals at designated ‘haul out’ sites – where they leave the water to breed, rest and socialise. Find out more at: