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Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 - Part 6 'Conservation of seals'

  • The Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 (the Act) replaces the outdated Conservation of Seals Act 1970
  • Improved protection for seals and a new comprehensive licence system to ensure appropriate management
  • It will be an offence to kill or take any seal at any time - except under licence or for animal welfare concerns
  • Sea fisheries, salmon fisheries and salmon netsmen will continue to be able to protect fish, fisheries and gear by applying for a seal management licence
  • A duty to report the killing or taking of seals under licence or for welfare reasons
  • New legislation will be fully compliant with Habitats Directive

What will the Marine (Scotland) Act deliver for seals?

  • The Act will increase overall protection for seals by making it an offence to kill or take any seal at any time.
  • It will allow exceptions only under specific licence or for animal welfare.
  • It will extend the restrictions on shooting seals under the old close season so they apply throughout the year. The Scottish Government is not proposing to abolish the close season that currently applies but to extend that protection throughout the year.
  • It will introduce a new offence of harassment of seals at listed haul-out sites.

Why does the Marine (Scotland) Act not introduce a complete ban on killing seals?

  • Scotland has large seal populations - 186,000 grey seals and still slowly increasing and 19,800 common seals - which can impact on important fishery and aquaculture sectors.
  • This necessitates some seal management to protect fisheries and fish farms.

When will Part 6 of the Marine (Scotland) Act apply?

  • Part 6 will be introduced in two stages (the exact dates are yet to be confirmed):
  • September 2010 - Licensing sections of the Act will come into effect to allow early applications in advance of the closing date (yet to be determined).
  • Early 2011 - Main provisions of the legislation come into effect and new seal licences come into operation.
  • Until the new seal licensing system goes live in early 2011, the Conservation of Seals Act 1970 remains in effect.

How will the Marine (Scotland) Act improve enforcement?

  • The Act clarifies the nature of offences for all stakeholders.
  • The "netsmen's defence" exception, which proved extremely difficult to interpret, has been removed.
  • The Act increases the penalties for killing, injuring or taking a seal in line with other wildlife legislation.

How will fisheries and the aquaculture industry protect themselves from seals under the Act?

  • The first resort will be to non-lethal seal management measures - i.e. anti-predator nets and acoustic deterrents.
  • Where these are not effective or practical, sea fisheries, salmon fisheries and salmon netsmen will continue to be able to protect fish, fisheries and gear by applying for a seal management licence.
  • For the first time, the aquaculture industry will be able to protect stocks and cages by applying for a seal management licence.

Why do seals need to be shot when there are non-lethal deterrents?

  • Very few non-lethal deterrents have been assessed by independent scientists, and so their effectiveness is based on anecdotal evidence.
  • This limited evidence suggests that the effect of these measures is inconsistent.
  • Even where some measures appear to work better than others, they do not necessarily work in all locations and/or against all seals.
  • The new seal licence application process introduced by the Marine Act will allow the Scottish Government to collect information on the non-lethal options in use and their effectiveness. This will inform future best practice.
  • The Scottish Government is also continuing to fund research projects to enable further progress to be made in this area.

What will be the basis for the new seal licence system?

  • The licence system will be based on the model developed in the successful Moray Firth Seal Management Plan pilot, involving 12 District Salmon Fisheries Boards and 19 active netting stations.
  • This pilot successfully reduced local seal shooting by 60 per cent.
  • It will involve the use of a Permitted/Potential Biological Removal (PBR), which provides a maximum that can be removed without affecting the wider population.
  • The PBR will take into account differences in the size of the grey and common seal populations and between regional seal populations.
  • It will include consultation with statutory scientific advisers - Natural Environment Research Council's Special Committee on Seals and Scottish Natural Heritage - and with Marine Scotland Science.

For what purposes might seal licences be issued?

  • Seal licences may be issued for: scientific research, conservation of other species or habitats, protecting zoological or botanical collections, preserving public health, preventing spread of disease, preventing serious damage to fisheries or fish farms or for other imperative reasons of overriding public interest.

How will the new licence system address animal welfare issues?

  • For the first time, the new licence system will consider appropriate animal welfare issues.
  • It will specify the method of killing or taking seals, the maximum number, the reporting requirement.
  • It will also specify the general areas and general circumstances for killing or taking, as under the Moray Firth Seal Management Plan.

How will the Scottish Government protect seals during the breeding seasons?

  • There is no firm evidence to suggest that significant numbers of pregnant or nursing females or pups are being shot at present.
  • Under the seal licensing provisions in the Marine (Scotland) Act, the Scottish Government will monitor all seal shootings, including during breeding seasons.
  • If it appears that significant numbers of pregnant or nursing females or pups were being shot, the Scottish Government will introduce additional restrictions on shooting during breeding seasons.
  • A complete ban on shooting all seals during breeding seasons, including males and non-breeding females, would effectively prevent fisheries and fish farms from protecting their stocks for 7 months every year.
  • Scottish Government has extended the Scottish Stranding Scheme to seals to allow for post mortems to be undertaken where there may be concerns in a particular instance.

What standards will the Scottish Government incorporate in licensing to ensure that seals are killed humanely?

  • The seal licence will specify the method of killing and type of firearm to be used.
  • The seal licence system will involve suitable training for nominated marksmen.
  • The seal licence will consider appropriate distances for any shooting.
  • The Scottish Government will consider a range of other issues, including the avoidance of shooting from unstable platforms.

What will the Scottish Government do to ensure reporting of seals shot?

  • There is currently widespread disagreement about the numbers of seals being shot with figures quoted ranging from 5,000 (non-governmental organisation estimates) to less than 1,000 (informal reports from industry - Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) quoted figure of 489). There is no current basis for establishing the accuracy of any of these figures.
  • The Marine (Scotland) Act will finally resolve this issue by introducing statutory reporting for all seals killed.
  • This reporting will allow the Scottish Government to monitor the potential impact of any shooting on wider seal populations.
  • The Act will also introduce heavy penalties, including fines and possible imprisonment, for shooting seals without a licence and for failure to report any seal shot under licence.

What about stakeholder involvement and communication?

  • The new licence system will take into account the views of a range of stakeholders through the Seals Forum and its Working Group.
  • Marine Scotland are currently working with stakeholders to publish documents to support the new seal licence system and associated publicity material.
  • Marine Scotland will hold a series of seal management workshops throughout the Summer of 2010 to raise awareness of the new legislation and licence system.