By Rory Reynolds
AN animal rights group is pressuring MSPs to amend the Scottish Marine Bill to protect hundreds of seals from being shot by fishermen.
Advocates for animals are demanding that licences to kill seals are revoked after the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation stated that 489 seals were shot in 2008.
But the group claim the figure is much higher as and that not all killings are reported to the salmon industry body.
The salmon industry has hit back saying that fish farmers have a legal obligation to protect their stock.This comes as the Rural Affairs Committee meets in Parliament tomorrow to take evidence on whether a change in legislation is necessary.
The current bill provides a general ban on shooting seals, but includes a number of instances under which licences can be sought to allow the killing of seals.
Libby Anderson, Advocates for Animals’ Political Director, said that her group would like to see a ban in place, but will settle for greater clarity on the current legislation.
She said: “There is a lack of clarity about the nature and conditions of the licences that the Government proposes to issue to allow the continued killing of these animals.
“We would much rather see an outright ban on the shooting of seals but if that is not the Scottish Government’s approach we must at least ensure that these licences are not handed out wholesale.
“We particularly want to ensure that licences are not given out for killing any seals during their breeding seasons – killing a lactating mother condemns her pup to a long slow death from starvation, dehydration or infection.
“No commercial interest can justify inflicting such suffering.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation hit back, saying that fish farmers were legally obliged to protect said.
He said: “We believe that a major omission from the draft Bill is the protection of the fish, despite the fact that fish farmers have a legal obligation under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act to protect their stocks.
“While fish farmers use a range of acoustic and netting methods to deter seals from attacking pens, sometimes a persistent, rogue seal will not be put off and can viciously kill many hundreds of fish in one attack.”
“The industry operates an independently audited Code of Good Practice to minimise predation by seals and continues to develop its range of measures to protect its fish and considers shooting as an act of last resort.”
The Rural Affairs Committee is to review the evidence tomorrow, to determine later whether a change in legislation is justified.