The head of Scotland's biggest salmon-netting company has branded legal limits on the number of seals that fisheries are permitted to shoot as "pointless".

According to the minutes of a meeting leaked to the Sunday Herald, George Pullar, the director of Usan Salmon Fisheries based in Montrose, was quoted as saying that netting companies should be able to shoot as many seals as was necessary to protect their salmon. The Government's licensing scheme controlling the number of seals killed each year was "not practical", he said.

According to the Scottish Government, 892 seals have been shot under licence around the nation's coasts over the last two years. Half of them have been killed by salmon-netting companies or river fisheries and half by fish farms to prevent them from eating fish.

Pullar is at the centre of a fierce row about seal killing in Gardenstown, near Banff in Aberdeenshire. He told the local paper last month that shooting seals was "the very last resort for our company".

But then a dead female seal was found washed up on the shore with a bullet hole in her head after Pullar's marksmen had been seen in the area. This prompted outrage among local people, with the laird and former Fairport Convention singer, Marc Ellington, threatening to stop shooting from his land.

The row is now set to escalate with the revelation that Pullar has criticised statutory controls on the number of salmon that can be killed. He made his comments at the last annual meeting of the Salmon Net Fishing Association of Scotland, of which he is vice-chairman, in Dunkeld on November 2 last year. According to the minute of the meeting, Pullar "stated that it was pointless having a restriction on the number of seals which could be shot". He added: "It is important to have the ability to shoot the number of seals that are causing damage to the fish or the fishery, and a quota is not practical."

His remarks have angered animal welfare groups. "Instead of letting these cowboys declare open season on seals, the Scottish Government should be banning all shooting of seals," said John Robins from the Save Our Seals Fund.

"At the very least something should be done to police the situation and monitor exactly how many seals are being killed ... At the moment the Government relies on the figures supplied by the netters to determine how many seals are being killed."

Libby Anderson, the policy director of OneKind, the animal protection charity, pointed out that it was a criminal offence to kill seals without a licence.

"Such killing is a threat not only to the conservation of native species, but a significant animal welfare problem," she said.

"If these statements mean that the company is disregarding the legislation and killing more animals than the licence permits, it must be brought to account immediately."

Pullar insisted, however, that Usan Salmon Fisheries adhered to its licence for shooting seals, though he wouldn't say exactly how many were being shot. He accepted that his "personal view" had been reported in the leaked minute. His company has spent tens of thousands of pounds erecting seal barriers and strengthening nets, and is trialing acoustic scaring devices. But it was always going to be necessary to kill seals "as a last resort", he argued.

"The seal population is out of control, and we're struggling with the severe damage they do every day," he added. "I don't want to shoot any seals, but we have to control the seals that are marauding our nets. We don't want to fall out with anyone, but we're legally entitled to protect our livelihood, our jobs and our income."

According to the Scottish Government, the police have found nothing to date to suggest that Usan Salmon Fisheries had breached its licence.

"The Scottish Government has significantly increased protection for seals with the introduction of the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 which, for the first time, makes it an offence to shoot seals without a licence at any time, unless to alleviate suffering," said a Government spokesman.