A salmon producer has reported seeing a reduction in seal culling after introducing new nets to keep them away from fish.
Fish farms are licensed to kill the animals to prevent them from attacking and eating salmon in the farm cages.
Scottish Sea Farms (SSF) said the number of seals culled last year was 31% down on the year before.
It added that culling of seals was a “last resort”.
The figures, which have been shared by the producer for the first time, suggest that nine of the producer’s 45 salmon farms culled seals between 1 February 2018 to 31 January 2019.
Eleven seals were culled to protect salmon stocks. The mammals can each eat 3-7kg (6.6-15.4lbs) of food per day, depending on the species.
During the 2017-18 reporting period, 16 seal culls took place, and in the previous year 17 seals were culled.
SSF said new Sea Pro netting was piloted at its Orkney fish farms. Since it was installed in 2016, SSF claims no culls were required there.
Of 45 farms, 21 now have the netting installed. There are plans to install the netting over the next few years at nine more farms and will be targeted at those which face problems with seals.
The netting with a more rigid surface whereas traditional netting allows seals to push their snouts into the twine and catch salmon as they swim by.
‘Bullets cheaper than nets’
Other measures include increasing the the tension of the nets, making them harder to break into.
Acoustic deterrents are also being used as part of plans across the sector to reduce the need for seal culling.
SSF claim that the measures have contributed to an 81% drop in the number of seal culls since 2011.
SSF’s Ralph Bickerdike said: “On occasion, we have installed Seal Pro netting at one farm only to see seals relocate to another farm where there had been no prior seal challenge.
“This, we believe, accounted for five of the 11 seals culled in the last reporting period and is further reason why we will continue to roll-out the new netting until each and every farm is protected.”
Don Staniford, of Scottish Salmon Watch, said that the drop was to be applauded but more had to be done.
He said: “It’s a step in the right direction, but there needs to be zero tolerance for the killing of seals.
“Even killing one seal is too much. This happens because bullets are a lot cheaper than installing anti-predator nets.
“The deaths of hundreds of seals is the price that is being paid for cheap Scottish salmon.”