Sir – I am writing in response to a letter, "Government should do right thing and make nets compulsory" (NT Friday 6 July).
I am deeply saddened that the author, Mr Robins of Save Our Seals, accuses RSPCA Freedom Food – a fellow animal welfare charity – of "telling lies" regarding seals only being shot as a last resort by its members.
I am equally distressed that Mr Robins thinks Freedom Food – a non-profit making charity – could "allow the shooting of seals because of the great cost savings involved."
I would like to take this opportunity to reassure him, and your readers, of our absolute commitment to animal welfare.
The RSPCA set up Freedom Food for one purpose only – to improve the welfare of animals farmed for food and that is exactly what we work tirelessly to do.
However, the RSPCA is of course equally concerned about the welfare of farmed salmon as well as animals such as seals, which may prey upon them. Indeed RSPCA wildlife centres often take a leading role in rescuing and rehabilitating seals.
As such all Freedom Food salmon members must record and demonstrate that rigorous measures are taken at all times to deter predator attacks on their salmon.
These measures must – in accordance with the RSPCA’s standards – focus on physical exclusion, including the proper use of acoustic devices, properly tensioned and weighted nets and the efficient removal of dead and moribund fish from the bottom of the nets.
Currently most, if not all, salmon farms deploy tension nets reducing the need for other types of anti-predator control.
Whilst Mr Robins would like predator exclusion nets to be made compulsory, in fact predator exclusion nets can actually cause injury to seals and also sea birds in some circumstances and therefore tension nets are preferable.
However it is a sad reality of salmon farming – as it is with predator attacks on terrestrial livestock farming – that from time to time a predator may be able to bypass all efforts to exclude them, including tension nets, which may result in an attack on the fish.
Such attacks can cause serious welfare problems, with potentially thousands of fish being killed and/or caused a great deal of suffering.
The RSPCA doesn’t want any seals to be shot but sadly there are occasions when there may be no other option, to prevent further suffering to the fish. However contrary Mr Robins’ accusation, this method of control must only be enacted as a last resort.
If a Freedom Food salmon farmer cannot demonstrate that any lethal action was taken only as a last resort, then the member will be suspended from the scheme.
The shooting of one seal is still, however, one too many and the RSPCA and Freedom Food are working closely with the Salmon, Aquaculture and Seals Working Group (of which we were founder members) to try and find new ways to reduce the use of a lethal method of predator control.
This isn’t an easy issue but I hope this letter reassures Mr Robins and your readers of our absolute honesty in tackling this welfare problem and our 100 per cent commitment to protecting animals – it is the reason both the RSPCA and Freedom Food exist .
RSPCA Freedom Food,