Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Seal cull shames Scotland

1,340 grey and common seals may have been shot in Scotland to protect farmed salmon and wild salmon fisheries in 2011. The quota for 2012 is 1,100. It beggars belief that there has been so little outrage about this completely unnecessary slaughter.

The reason for this hugely damaging cull may lie in the Scottish psyche. Scotland has traditionally been reliant on the sea, and seals are classed as pests by many Scottish people. The relatively new £500 million farmed salmon industry is seen as a Scottish success story and the seals are a victim of an over-protective attitude to anybody who provides a job in remote areas.

This attitude is short-sighted to say the least. What should be realised is that 'nature tourism' is worth £1.4 billion to the Scottish economy annually, and seeing a seal will be top of the wish list of most visitors. The quickest way to see an end to this cull would be if the Scottish Government and people felt that tourism could be threatened by the killing of seals.

The crying shame is that this cull needn't take place. In 1990 the 'dolphin safe' label was introduced by the US Dept. of Commerce and has spread so successfully around the world that it is now almost universally accepted that you make canned tuna as cetacean friendly as possible. Salmon farming could just as easily do the same for seals.

Scotland has ample history to learn from. Seals are being culled for the same reason that made the wolf extinct in the 17th century (to protect livestock), and Scottish otters are still reeling from when they were killed in their thousands to protect wild salmon and trout. Thankfully otters have since received full protection and are recovering.

It is time to stop the cull. The seal is Scotland's largest wild predator and millions of people will pay good money to see them alive and in their natural environment. The reputation of Scotland is at stake here, and the current seal cull shames Scotland and the Scottish people.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Gannet success story to end with fisheries discards ban?

Seabird populations have plummeted in the UK over the last few decades, mostly due to the overfishing of fish like sandeels, a vital food species for many seabirds. There has been one exception to this depressing trend, the northern gannet.

The UK gannet population has doubled since 1970, from roughly 100,000 birds to well over 200,000 today (56% of the world's population). It is believed that the reason for this spectacular success is the horrendous EU fishing industry policy of discarding unwanted fish.

The gannet is unique amongst UK seabirds in that it can dive from a great height, plunge into the ocean and grab fish that other seabirds cannot reach. It is also a large seabird, allowing it to outcompete most other seabirds when scavenging or foraging. When fishing boats throw unwanted and undersized fish overboard the gannet is well placed to take advantage of this completely unnatural bounty.

Gannets may have also come to see fishing boats that are discarding fish as a reliable source of food. Dr Hamer, from Leeds' Faculty of Biological Sciences says that "gannets have different aptitudes and specialities and for some, that skill might be finding and following fishing boats."

If as expected gannet numbers plummet after discarding is banned, the one European seabird success story of the last few years will be seen to be due to nothing more than human folly. The folly of overfishing and waste, which benefited one specialised species of seabird for a time, but saw the greatest decline in overall seabird numbers in human history.