A group of hungry seals have been spotted enjoying a seafood buffet in the waters of Skye, after a seal attack on a nearby salmon farm resulted in the escape of thousands of fish.
Seal attack causes massive fish escape
On December 31, 2023, a large gang of seals attacked a fish farm at Portree on Skye, owned by The Scottish Salmon Company (SSC). The seals ripped open the nets and killed many fish, while others managed to swim away. According to the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO), more than 52,000 juvenile salmon escaped from the farm, making it one of the biggest fish escapes in Scotland.
The SSC said that the farm was due to have new anti-predator netting technology installed by the end of January 2024, but the seal attack happened before the upgrade. The company reported the incident to Marine Scotland and other stakeholders, and is working with the local fisheries trust to recapture the escaped fish.
Seals enjoy free lunch
While the fish escape was a disaster for the salmon farm, it was a bonanza for the seals, who have been seen gorging on the salmon in the surrounding waters. A local photographer, John MacPherson, captured some stunning images of the seals feeding on the fish, which he shared on social media.
MacPherson said that he saw about 20 seals in the area, and that they were very active and playful. He said that he was amazed by the sight of the seals eating the salmon, and that he felt sorry for the fish farmers, but also happy for the seals.
Seal-farm conflict raises concerns
The seal attack and the fish escape have highlighted the ongoing conflict between seals and salmon farms in Scotland, and the need for more effective and humane solutions. The SSPO said that seal attacks are a major threat to fish health and welfare, and that more than 500,000 Scottish farmed salmon died as a result of seal attacks in the year to May 2023.
The SSPO also said that recent legislation has reduced the methods available to fish farmers to manage seal predation, including a ban on the use of lethal controls, which will come into full effect at the end of January 2024. The SSPO called for more access to non-lethal measures to deter seal attacks and protect their livestock.
However, animal welfare groups and environmentalists have argued that killing seals is cruel and unnecessary, and that salmon farming is damaging to the marine ecosystem and the wild salmon population. They have urged for more sustainable and ethical practices in the aquaculture industry, and for more protection for the seals, which are a native and charismatic species in Scotland.