SALMON farmers have asked the Scottish Government to consider financial compensation for fish lost to seal attacks.

The Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) said ministers have failed to provide guidance on what fish farmers should do if a seal gets into a pen, or how to deal with seals harassing or attacking fish from outside a pen.

Figures show 79 seals were shot in the last 12 months by salmon farmers.

However a law change removing one of the legislative exemptions that allowed farmers to shoot seals came into force on January 31.

This aligns with US rules, ensuring farmed fish can still be exported to the lucrative American market.

The SSPO said seals were only ever shot as a last resort by farmers protecting their stock. 

It said the figures for the last 12 months – which represent the highest number of shootings for seven years – reflect the increasingly serious threat seals pose to farm-raised salmon.

The body, which represents salmon farmers, said Scotland’s seal population is booming. It estimated there are at least 132,000.

The sector said it has spent £8 million in the last 12 months on anti-predator nets to protect fish from seals.

It published figures showing more than 500,000 farmed salmon were killed by seals in 2020, although it said many more are likely to have died from the stress of being in close proximity to a seal in a salmon pen.

This equates to more than £13m in lost revenue for Scotland’s salmon farmers, the SSPO said - a loss which they say should be compensated for.

Tavish Scott, chief executive of the SSPO, said: “The Scottish Government has stopped fish farmers taking action to protect the welfare of fish without putting anything else in place. 

"The law is a mess with three conflicting legislations. 

"Farmers don’t know what they are legally permitted to do if a seal gets into a salmon pen.

"Our farmers dedicate their careers to looking after their livestock and they also have a legal duty to protect their fish but ministers have given them no options at all. 

"We need detailed, workable guidance and we need it urgently.

"Members have already invested more than £8m in anti-predator nets in just the last year. 

"But these latest figures show half a million fish were lost to seals. 

"So seals can still find their way into salmon pens.

"The Government has taken virtually every option of deterrence away from salmon farmers. 

"Therefore the Government must recognise the need for compensation. 

"Our members cannot be expected to cope with millions of pounds in losses every year with absolutely no guidance from the Scottish Government as to how they approach this problem."

The SSPO  said it is calling for clear guidance from Marine Scotland and the Scottish Government on what farmers should do if a seal gets into a salmon pen, as well as a discussion on the issue of compensation.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said there are no plans to compensate for stock loss as a result of seal attacks.

She said: "As of 1 February 2021, licences are no longer being granted to fisheries and fish farms for the purposes of protecting the health and welfare of farmed fish or to prevent serious damage to fisheries or fish farms.

"The changes to the legislation will provide enhanced protection for Scottish seals and also increases the penalties associated with the killing, injuring or taking of a live seal, bringing it into line with the most serious wildlife offences.

"However, we appreciate that part of the sector may face the risk of increased seal predation following changes to the seal licensing system.

"While some producers have already moved away from the lethal control of seals we will work with the industry to find sustainable ways of protecting fish from predators, and will discuss the requirement for guidance on seal related issues.

"There are currently no plans to compensate for stock loss as a result of seal attacks.”