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Seal shooting figures released after campaign by animal rights activists

Figures show 173 seals were shot by salmon farms over two years

Animal charity gives advice on seal pups

The numbers of seals shot by salmon farms in Scotland have been released for the first time after a long battle by animal rights activists.

Figures released to the Scottish Government show that 173 of the animals were targeted by companies between 2013 and 2014.

The firms claim they began shooting seals after losing millions of pounds of fish due to seals cutting through nets to feed.

But campaigners demanded the figures be released in a bid to persuade farms to use non-lethal alternatives.

And after an intervention by the Scottish Information Commissioner earlier this year, Holyrood finally published the stats.

Don Staniford, director of the Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture, said: "Scottish salmon is dripping with the blood of dozens of seals.

"All fish farms which have applied for a seal licence already employ at least one, and many a range of, non-lethal alternatives, with shooting to be used only as a last resort.

"The public can read all the gory details for the first time and boycott seal-unfriendly Scottish salmon."

Figures show that farms north of the border shot over 90 seals in 2013 and around 80 last year, with a third of Scotland's farms shooting at least one seal.

One of Scotland's largest farms The Scottish Salmon Company said: "We apply rigorous measures to exclude and deter persistent predator attacks.

"The action highlighted was taken as a last resort under a government licence over a two-year period, when rogue seals persistently interfered with the integrity of the nets.

"We have implemented an investment programme for farm infrastructure which includes nets, acoustic devices, and mooring replacement to ensure seals do not cause stress to or damage our fish."

Each year the Sea Mammal Research Unit at the University of St Andrews calculates the number of individual seals that can be removed from the population without causing a decline in the population.

This number - known as the Potential Biological Removal (PBR) - is then used to determine how many licences may be issued each year, and how many seals may be legally shot.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "The level of seal shooting has reduced by 56 per cent overall between 2011 and 2014 and in fish farms specifically has reduced by 66 per cent in the same period.

"All fish farms which have applied for a seal licence already employ at least one, and many a range of, non-lethal alternatives, with shooting to be used only as a last resort.

"There are a range of views on the effectiveness of the various non-lethal measures and none have, to-date, entirely eliminated the risk of seal predation.

"There are also restrictions on the use of some non-lethal measures, including anti-predator nets and acoustic deterrents, as a result of their potential impact on other marine species."

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