British Divers Marine Life Rescue
British Divers Marine Life Rescue (photo: Steve Marsh)
British Divers Marine Rescue

News

2005-08-07 15:40:33

Seal Trap: News from Shetland News Agency

A call has gone out for information about seals being trapped around salmon farms in Shetland after environmental activists found a device they believe has been used for illegally catching and drowning marine mammals.

The eight feet long cage, designed like a lobster creel, was discovered by Alan Knight, of British Divers Marine Life Rescue, during a brief visit to the islands.

Last summer Mr Knight reported another Shetland salmon farm to local police after two dead eider ducks were found trapped in a monofilament gill net draped around a salmon cage, at Dales Voe, near Lerwick.

Mr Knight said he had returned to Shetland this year after hearing more reports of specially made cages designed to trap and kill seals.

He dived around several salmon farms in the islands, but the only device he found was out of the water behind a derelict croft house, at another Dales Voe, near Mossbank. Inside the cage were the remains of a black and a white lamb, which had been unable to escape.

“What we found matches exactly the description we were given of the seal traps. It is eight feet long, five feet wide and four feet high. Once a seal is in the trap it can't get out, as these two poor sheep discovered. It must have been a tortuous death for them,” Mr Knight said.

However the owner of the trap denied that it was used for catching seals. He said the cage, which was lying behind a derelict croft house, near Mossbank, was used to put the by catch from his salmon farm.

"That had nothing to do with seals whatsoever. We just had it for working with piltocks," Bobby Nicolson, of Ayre Salmon Farm Ltd, said. Mr Nicolson said that during the salmon harvest, other species such as saithe (known locally as piltocks), were often swimming in the net. The cage was used to store the unwanted fish during the harvest.

He said he had held a licence to shoot rogue seals around his salmon farm for the past seven or eight years. "We never had a big problem with seals. We had one or two but not a lot and we didn't go out shooting seals for the sake of shooting them. It was only if we had problems."

But Mr Knight said the device was "a perfect match" of the description he had been given. "We were told about large traps like lobster pots which were baited with fish and were big enough to hold several seals. This fits the bill perfectly," he said.

"But I have to say that it was out of the water and none of the salmon farms we dived on had anything like it around them. In fact very few cages had any fish in them at all, which shows the state the industry must be in up there.

"The salmon cages that did have fish in them were properly tensioned and one even had a raft of about 90 eider ducks on it, which shows they were doing it right."

Shetland's SSPCA officer Ron Pattison said he had heard about seal traps being used in Shetland and the one discovered matched the description he had been given.

He called on anyone who knew about seal traps or anything similar to get in touch with him or the local police. "We are interested in hearing anything about this kind of activity, if it is going on. Anyone can contact the police or myself and any information will be treated confidentially."