A major seal attack on a fish farm off the coast of Skye belonging to The Scottish Salmon Company (SSC) led to the escape of 52,000 juvenile salmon on Dec. 31, and raises the need for more options to control the mammals, the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO) said Thursday.

The farm, at Portree on Skye, was due to have new anti-predator netting technology installed by the end of January.

All remaining fish at the affected Scottish Salmon Company’s Portree farm site will be in new "seal proof" netting by Monday, Jan. 18, it said.

"Our Portree site has recently been subject to persistent attacks from a large group of seals which, despite our best efforts, caused significant damage to one of our nets," said a spokesperson for SSC, which is owned by Faroese salmon producer Bakkafrost.

"Our staff moved quickly to repair this damage but unfortunately a number of fish escaped."

The incident was reported immediately to Marine Scotland and other stakeholders, and the company is now working closely with the local fisheries trust to record any sightings and recapture stock wherever possible.

"We take these matters extremely seriously and have invested substantially in measures to ensure containment and deal with predators like seals," said the spokesperson.

Fewer options

Recent Scottish government actions have reduced the methods available to fish farmers to manage predation, including ending of the use of lethal controls -- shooting -- by farmers, a change which will come into effect in full at the end of January 2021.

The SSPO said it continues to call for Scotland’s salmon farmers to have full access to all available effective non-lethal measures if they are to fulfil their statutory duty to protect their fish.

"Salmon farms and seals can co-exist quite happily in the marine environment," said SSPO CEO Tavish Scott.

"Seals can, however, inflict vicious and widespread damage on salmon farms, killing significant numbers of fish in each attack.

"This distressing incident shows that our farmers need access to a range of effective tools and measures to deter seal attacks and protect their livestock."

There are at least 132,000 seals in Scottish coastal waters, according to Marine Scotland.

The SSPO said that for the year ending May 2020, around 530,000 farmed salmon worth £13 million (€14.6 million/$17.7 million) died as a result of seal attacks in Scotland, either directly from a physical attack or indirectly from stress arising from being subjected to an attack.

Over that period Scottish salmon farming sector investment into preventing predator attacks was £8.4 million (€9.4 million/$11.4 million).

Investment into new generation anti-predator nets accounted for £5.3 million (€6 million/$7.2 million).

Anti-predation tools include acoustic deterrent devices (ADDs), anti-predator or seal proof netting, net tensioning and seal blinds.