Scotland’s salmon farmers are demanding financial compensation from the Scottish Government after fish worth £13 million (€15 million/$18.2 million) were lost to seal attacks in 2020.

The Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) published figures Feb.18 showing more than 500,000 farmed salmon were killed by seals in 2020, while many more are likely to have died from the stress of being in close proximity to a seal in a salmon pen.

The lost revenue has been a tough blow for Scotland’s salmon farmers, and the industry is now looking for compensation.

Change in law

Recent figures show 79 seals were shot in the last 12 months by Scottish salmon farmers, the highest number in seven years, which reflects the "increasingly serious threat" seals pose to farm-raised salmon, said the SSPO.

Scottish law has changed and following Jan. 31, farmers are no longer allowed to shoot seals as a last resort.

The new law was introduced to keep Scotland compliant with the US Marine Mammals Protection Act -- which effectively bans the import of any seafood if marine mammals are harmed during its production -- and ensure Scottish salmon can continue to be exported to the United States after Jan.1, 2023.

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

"The government has taken virtually every option of deterrence away from salmon farmers. Therefore the government must recognize the need for compensation," he said.

"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 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, and for a discussion about compensation.

"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," said Scott.

"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."

With very few natural predators of their own, Scotland’s seal population is booming, with numbers estimated to be at least 132,000.

The Scottish salmon sector has spent £8 million (€9.2 million/$11.2 million) in the last 12 months on anti-predator nets to protect fish from seals, but the latest figures show half a million fish were still lost to seals.