Since 2011, the Marine (Scotland) Act has made it illegal to kill, injure or take a seal. However, fish farmers are still able to obtain a license from Marine Scotland and have been continuing to secretly (and legally) shoot seals all along the coasts.
In 2014, at least 205 seals were shot in Scotland. The number of seals shot in the rest of the UK is unknown.
There are no regulations on killing seals during breeding seasons and many of the seals being shot are likely mothers. Without their mothers to feed them, the orphaned pups will starve to death.
Seals have been targeted by those farming and hunting fish under the false belief that seals are the primary threat to fish stocks. In 2010 the European Commission found that this claim was inaccurate, with Scotland’s porpoises, minke whales and dolphins consuming a similar amount of fish.
Seal numbers are monitored by the Special Committee on Seals (SCOS), who have been appointed by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) to monitor seal numbers under the Conservation of Seals Act 1970.
According to the European Commission, seal population have been in a slow decline, with the number of harbour seals in Scotland having fallen by up to 70% since 2000. Seals are also killed as bycatch, with an estimated 391 killed in 2013.
The real problem is not the seals, but the fact that Scottish fisheries remain depleted and overexploited. Seals are simply doing what comes naturally to them and the fact that Scottish fishermen have overexploited Scottish fish is no reason to start killing one of their natural predators.
Save Scotland’s Seals from being Killed is a stakeholder group made up of numerous organisations and individuals against the on-going legal culling of seals. According to them, the easier (and more humane) solution would be to install double skinned anti-predator nets and position fish farms away from known seal haul-outs.
According to the 2014 SCOS report, these modified nets, which include a narrower entrance, are currently being tested.
In the meantime, seals are still being killed legally in the UK, thanks in large part to the salmon industry, which has annual exports of over £285 million and produces 155,000 tons of fish a year.