ANIMAL rights protesters are calling for a boycott of Scottish salmon as new figures show that the number of seals killed for salmon farming in the first half of the year has risen by 20 per cent.
Campaigners are to launch new protests on Friday as new official figures show that salmon farming has been responsible for the shooting of 49 seals in the first half of this year. That's eight more than the same period last year, according to campaigners.
The data has shocked protesters who fear that instead of finding alternative ways to deal with seals, salmon farms are continuing to be content to shoot to kill.
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But the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation said that the industry's "clear intention" is to cut the number of seals shot to zero.
Producers of farmed salmon are issued with licences which allow seals to be shot to protect fish stocks.
Salmon farmers say they sometimes need to kill seals as a last resort to prevent them attacking nets and eating fish. However, campaigners, argue that better nets and 'seal-scarers' could eliminate the need for killing.
Grieg Seafood Hjaltland have brought in new econets to protect the salmon and keep seals out, and have said they have cut the shootings from four in the first half of last year, to just one so far this year.
Hjaltland Sea Farms had previously reduced drastically shootings from 32 to six between 2013 and 2014.
By autumn 2016, all their sites will be fully protected by the anti-predator nets.
The Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture campaign group is concerned that not all have invested in the special nets and that the "shoot-to-kill policy" is continuing.
Norwegian seafood company Marine Harvest were the worst offenders, shooting 15 seals in the first half of this year - 12 more than the same period last year, according to Marine Scotland data.
Norwegian-owned Scottish Sea Farms, which supplies to Marks and Spencer, shot 12, four fewer than the first six months of 2014, and the Scottish Salmon Company have shot seven, three more than last year.
A protest delegation some dressed in seal costumes will be making their voice heard in a protest outside M&S in Princes Street and Marine Scotland in Leith on Friday.
They will be asking M&S shoppers to stop buying farmed salmon and will be asking Marine Scotland to stop issuing licences to kill seals. It appeared to be reversing a trend after the numbers shot annually declined steadily in the past four years. There were 176 seals killed in the past two years - 95 in 2013 and 81 last year.
Don Staniford director of the GAAIA, said: "If the kill rate continues then 2015 is set to be worse than 2014.
"Until all salmon farms install predator nets consumers should boycott all Scottish salmon. "In essence we're talking about dozens of seals shot each year with one company finally introducing a cease-fire and spending millions on new predator nets whilst there are other companies whose shoot-to-kill policy continues unabated.
"Bullets are cheap and Scottish salmon is cheap and nasty. Trigger-happy salmon farmers are bring international shame to the reputation of Scottish salmon."
He said the price for seal-friendly farmed salmon is the installation of predator nets and that could be £1 million for each salmon farm.
Given that there are currently 143 active salmon farms in Scotland and 87% of salmon farms - according to a 2011/12 Scottish Government survey - do not have predator nets installed then the cost to the Scottish salmon farming industry could be well over £100 million.
"But the fact that Grieg has virtually stopped killing seals completely, from 50 to 1 in four years, shows it is possible - why not Marine Harvest, Scottish Seafarms and the Scottish Salmon Company?," said Mr Staniford.
In August, GAAIA wrote to supermarkets, RSPCA Assured/Freedom Food, the Soil Association and the Aquaculture Stewardship Counci/WWF demanding an end to seal-unfriendly farmed salmon.
The RSPCA has previously argued that seal attacks on farmed salmon were a “sad reality”. “The RSPCA doesn’t want any seals to be shot but sadly there are occasions when there may be no other option,” it said in August.
The Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation said: "The Scottish salmon farming industry takes very seriously its responsibility to animal welfare, both to the fish in its care and to the wider marine population, including wild seals in Scottish waters.
"It is our ambition to have enough techniques throughout the whole industry to avoid the need to shoot seals. In other words, it is our clear intention to reduce the number of seals shot to zero."
Scottish Sea Farms said said that they have "an aspiration that we will have no impact on seals."
The firm said it had invested over £1 million on seal resistant ‘sapphire nets’ for sites where there has been a history of seal attacks. "This is a significant spend that shows our determination to find alternative methods to protect our stock and eliminate the need for last resort control," they said.
"These measures have been increasingly successful in allowing our farms to co-exist with the seal population in the areas where we farm, to the extent that no seals have been harmed on our sites in the last six months."
A Marks and Spencer spokeswoman said: "Neither we, our salmon farmers or the RSPCA wish to see any sea life harmed. As is the case with all suppliers in the area, any negative impact on seals occurs only as a last resort.
"We have invested time and money to avoid this happening, which has led to no seals being harmed on sites that supply M&S, in the last six months."
Marine Harvest Scotland said it has been "heavily involved" in the drive to reduce the shooting of seals as founder members of the Salmon Aquaculture and Seals Working Group.
A spokesman said: "The work we have been doing has led to a dramatic reduction in the number of seals shot.
"We are working to a target of zero, and have already made great strides towards that goal. We have achieved this considerable reduction using various methods including the use of seal scaring devices and seal 'blinds'. We are introducing stronger high density polyethylene nets in a phased programme across the company
"Other measures include ensuring that nets are adequately tensioned and raising awareness and training staff about alternatives to shooting."
A spokesman for The Scottish Salmon Company added: “We operate in line with industry best practice and apply rigorous measures to exclude and deter persistent predator attacks.
“We have implemented an investment programme for farm infrastructure which includes nets, acoustic devices, and mooring replacement to ensure seals do not cause stress to or damage our fish.
“As part of our industry code of best practice we continue to work closely with statutory bodies... to identify alternative predator solutions.”