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An rud bhios na do bhroin, cha bhi e na do thiomhnadh
"That which you have wasted will not be there for future generations"

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Guest Column, October 2004

This months guest column is written by Alan Knight, BSc(hons), Chairman of the British Divers Marine Life Rescue organisation. In it, Alan addresses the issue of the use of illegal methods of predator control on Salmon Farms in Shetland.

Salmon Farming's Illegal Slaughter of Scotland's Wildlife

British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) is a UK based Charity specialising in the rescue of marine wildlife. We have three rigid inflatable rescue boats and 5 rescue trailers strategically located around the UK. We offer a 24hr rescue service 365 days of the year from Lands end to the tip of Shetland.

BDMLR have designed a training course to train Marine Mammal Medics. The aim of the training is to teach volunteers the basics of rescue and first aid techniques for marine wildlife. I was asked to run a training course in Shetland in April 2004 and while conducting the course I received information about the illegal slaughter of seals by salmon farmers.

At the time the reports were general and I promised the informers that if they came back to me with details of which farms were using these illegal methods I would come back and investigate them. Over the next few weeks information started coming in and by the beginning of July we had enough information to work with.

I contacted a colleague of mine Gavin Parsons who is an underwater photographer and we booked flights to Shetland. We were on the Islands for 4 days. We had been told that the Salmon farmers were using large drowning traps to catch seals. These traps were about 1.5m square and were constructed like large lobster pots with a funnel entrance.

The traps were suspended below buoys around the Salmon nets and were baited with live salmon. The seals enter the trap and are drowned. As many as five seals can be killed in these traps at one time.

It is hard to believe that anyone would be so callous.

We were given good information by a salmon farm employee that a large salmon farm in Dales Voe had a drowning trap. We managed to borrow a boat and dived the nets and it soon became obvious that we would need a lot of time to inspect all of the nets. Gavin made the first dive and found the visibility was really bad as the water was full of fish excrement. In fact Gavin gave up after 30 mins as we were getting nowhere fast.

We returned the next night on a larger boat and this time we had three divers in the water. We were unable to find a seal drowning trap but we did find a huge monofilament net hanging below the surface and completely surrounding one of the Salmon pens. The net was full of dead sea birds including three Eider ducks. I am certain that this net will trap and drown any wildlife that comes into contact with it including seals, otters, diving birds and of course the Eider ducks which roost on the floats of the salmon nets and dive down to feed on the mussels that grow on the mooring ropes and nets.

I cut a corpse free and we returned to the boat. I was actually trapped in the net myself and had to cut myself free so I could return to the surface. When I returned to the boat Gavin pulled off monofilament net that had wrapped around my cylinder. The duck corpse and the net were supplied to the Lerwick Police and a file was submitted to the Procurator Fiscal soon afterwards. At the time of writing this article (Sept 2004), no decision had been made about whether a prosecution would be allowed.

I believe that we caught the Salmon farmers red handed. They show little regard for wildlife of any kind and as a result the Shetlands Islands are a poorer place. My diving colleagues in the Shetlands now know why they rarely see seals on their dives when in the past they were plentiful. I hope that the Procurator Fiscal will decide that there is a case to answer. We are already receiving more information from whistle blowers in the salmon industry that makes another investigation inevitable.

NB As of 25th November 2004 no report about this incident had been received by the Procurator Fiscals office in Lerwick. Lerwick Police are currently looking into the SFPGs request for further clarification. Read also Press Release issued by Jonathan Wills of Seabirds-and-Seals