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Seal management plan for Moray Firth

28/04/2005

A plan to balance the conservation of the Moray Firth's seal population with the interests of salmon fisheries was today welcomed by Deputy Environment and Rural Development Minister Lewis Macdonald.

The first of its kind, the Moray Firth Seal Management Plan will reduce the impact of shooting by at least 60% compared to 2002. The Plan will also involve trialling non-lethal seal management options to explore the potential for reducing the level of shooting further still.

These non-lethal measures will include the use of acoustic scarers, with a view to the implementation of practical methods without affecting the local bottlenose dolphin population.

Lewis Macdonald said:

"This pilot seal management plan for the Moray Firth seeks to develop a more co-ordinated approach to protecting the area's fisheries and seal populations.

"The trialling of non-lethal methods of seal management under-pinned by a substantial research and monitoring programme will help inform the future development of the plan."

Mike Comerford, Chairman of the Moray Firth Partnership said:

"The Seal Plan is a constructive and positive step towards addressing this challenging issue. The Moray Firth Partnership welcomes this process of coming together and working hard to find common ground between the different parties involved."

Andrew Wallace, Director of the Association of Salmon Fishery Boards, commented:

"This innovative project is an attempt to reconcile the competing demands associated with two important Habitats Directive listed species. The fact that the initiative has such a wide cross-section of support, and has Scottish Executive endorsement, is a credit to all those who have worked so hard to bring this plan into being."

Superintendent Mike Flynn from the Scottish SPCA commented:

"The Society supports the Plan as it should dramatically reduce the numbers of seals taken. From a welfare perspective, it will also ensure that anyone involved in the taking of the seals will have received appropriate training and will be competent for the task. Finally, the Plan will place a greater emphasis on the use of non-lethal methods when dealing with the various seal issues."

The Moray Firth Seal Management Plan is an initiative involving all the Moray Firth District Salmon Fishery Boards, local salmon netsmen, the Sea Mammal Research Unit, the Fisheries Research Services and Scottish Natural Heritage. It has been endorsed by the Scottish Executive and has broad support from the Scottish Seals Forum, the Moray Firth Partnership and the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Scottish SPCA).

It is intended as a pilot initiative to enable the District Salmon Fishery Boards, based in the Moray Firth area, to manage seal impacts on salmon stocks and salmon Special Areas of Conservation (SAC), whilst safeguarding the integrity of the Dornoch Firth SAC for common seals. It will also be used to inform seal management operations elsewhere in the country.

The Plan encompasses 12 DSFBs, 17 major salmon rivers and 19 active salmon netting stations. It also covers six SACs for Atlantic Salmon, as well as the Dornoch Firth SAC for common seals and the Moray Firth SAC for bottlenose dolphins.

Any shooting of seals under the Plan will be carried out under licence by experienced individuals who have attended training courses and will follow a code of practice. It will take place within tightly defined 'management areas', where predation of salmon by seals is considered to be most significant, and away from known seal breeding and haul out sites in the estuaries. No shooting is planned within the Dornoch Firth SAC itself.

Seal management under the Plan will be reviewed annually.

A £356,000 research and monitoring programme will run alongside the Plan. SEERAD is contributing £219,000 and the programme is also supported by the Association of Salmon Fishery Boards, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Atlantic Salmon Trust and private sources, This will highlight the effects of seal management on salmon fisheries and on seal populations and will inform the future evolution of the Plan.