Sustainable Seas

 The British Isles was home to around 40%, of the European sub-species of Common Seal,

today it is closer to 30%, although a few areas are showing signs of improvement.

Page Content:

Please scroll down page for: -

+ Hope Spots & Rewilding.

+ COP to Curtains.

+ People; Part Problem - Part Solution?

+ Plastic, Plastic, Plastic.

+ Official Shot Seal Numbers.

Man and Nature can Coexist

BUT it needs to be a case of the

Environment over Profit.


Hope Spots & Rewilding

The latest terminology in trying to protect our seas and oceans are Hope Spots and Rewilding. Most will have heard about marine reserves, even Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), the later have been so underused, under-protected and not enforced that the term; Highly Protected Marine Area has been introduced, even then in Scotland, no definition and at just 10% suggested by 2026; too little, too late.

The main issue with any form of protection is that our leaders/politicians are often influenced by the powerful commercial industries, those that profit from exploiting and extracting. Fishing is probably the oldest form of extraction, one of the last ‘hunter-gatherers’. Compounded now with the industrial scale that it is carried out, using some of the most destructive methods, dredging and bottom trawling which damages entire seabed communities. The very same ecosystems that produce future fish stocks, a short-term greed stance. This combined with modern technology, including advanced fish finders and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) that are now precise, to pin-point accuracy, merged with electronic chart plotters that enable even the worst fisher-helms to navigate, open most areas and enable targeting what is left of an over-fished system. 

If this were not bad enough, then we find salmon farming, an often poorly regulated or self-regulated, caged method of farming, fish-eating fish which would normally roam our oceans during four or five years, stocked at increasingly higher and higher densities, which causes its own problems such as a breeding ground for sea lice, these lice are having a detrimental effect on wild salmonid populations. So poor are the current husbandry methods that these fish have to be routinely fed antibiotics and undergo ‘treatments’ that kill off copepods, an important part of the marine food web, devastating trophic levels. These farmed or ‘pharmed’ as some environmentalists call them require massive amounts of caught, termed ‘wet’ fish. This fish often comes from already depleted fisheries and/or from areas where many nations rely on such fish as their main source of protein.

Seas and oceans need rest bite, they need chance to recover and if done properly without being abused and illegally exploited they can recover, the major issue here is, “IF”! Some marine reserves have been successful but in order for this success they need to be large enough to actually work and include ‘no-take-zones’, or be entirely no-take and in some cases ‘no-put’. That includes fish farm structures and chemicals.

The latest term given to special areas that require assistance to keep them special are Hope Spots and they are emerging with local support all around the world, Dr Sylvia Earle often dubbed, ‘Her Deepness’, due to her deep ocean explorations has a new book; ‘Ocean, A Global Odyssey’, which highlights some of the successes.

Seas and oceans can be resilient, partly due to the tides and currents which flush areas with replenished water, salty water rich in nutrients and species waiting for the right conditions to flourish. They only need the right settings, which includes substrate to become established, species such as sea grass and shellfish. Both of these species are very important ecosystem stabilisers, they produce the base ecosystems on which everything else can develop. Rewilding is the term given to leaving some areas, free from manmade influences. Even some badly affected regions can recover if given chance.

With a combination of climate change and man’s commercial scale abuse time is running out, if ‘tipping-points’ are reached the seas and oceans will struggle to replenish; dewilding or impoverished. ‘Rewilding the Sea’, a book just out by Charles Clover, is well worth a read.

We know what to do, the Royal Commission’s, ‘Turning the Tide’ report (2004), showed us the way, with 30% No-Take-Zones, areas that could be termed, ‘rewilding’ The big question is WILL WE DO IT? 

The Little Stuff is Important: Algae, Seagrass and Siphoning Shellfish

COP to Curtains


Climate Change, Greenhouse Gases and Biodiversity Loss; what you need to know in order to understand the processes and associated problems.


The gases associated with climate change, in effect produce a ‘blanket’ in the upper atmosphere. The high energy emissions from the sun pass through but the lower levels of energy, those with longer wavelengths are trapped, the result is warming.


The main drivers of climate change are; carbon dioxide CO2 (largest by volume and longest lasting), methane CH4 (four times as potent as CO2), and nitrous oxide N2O (around 300 times worse than CO2 the main cause being industrial scale agriculture from concentrated Nitrogen N2 fertilizers).


The Industrial Revolution is seen as the precursor to present day climate change and gives us a start point for CO2 levels. In terms of Parts Per Million (ppm) pre combustion-industry was at 280ppm, it is now at a record level, over 400ppm! (2020 - 412.5ppm). Putting that into perspective, data from ice cores indicate that the CO2 levels have not exceeded 300ppm in the last million years. This matters because three million years ago, with high CO2 levels, the temperature increase was 2 to 3 degrees and the sea level rise was between 15 to 25 metres! On our current trajectory, one estimate suggests a rise of CO2 exceeding 900ppm.


Water has one of the highest latent heat capacities of any commonly occurring material, this gives it the ability to act as a thermal buffer. In science terms this heat capacity can be worked with as a ratio known as specific heat. The salt in seawater with a salinity of 35 (another ratio, the average salinity [ 35grams/1litre of water]) has an effect, boiling and freezing point are slightly different, seawater with a salinity of 35 freezes at -1.80C. This is why salt is added to roads in the winter to prevent freezing.


The buffering effect is vital in maintaining global temperatures but now even with the oceans high latent heat capacity the temperature of seawater is rising. This has several important effects; rising heat from ocean hot-spots drives our air flows, the more intense the faster the movement, warm water absorbs less gas including CO2 therefore less CO2 is taken out of the atmosphere. Water mixing with carbon alters the pH or acidity/alkalinity levels and this can have an adverse effect on marine life, especially the shells of marine organisms.


The science bit:


CO2 + H2O + CO3  ----> 2HCO3 (the latter being Carbonic Acid)


The pH level uses a logarithmic scale so a small change in the number is actually a big deal. A 0.1 lowering is equivalent to a 30% increase in acidity. Not only does this have the ability to dissolve shells but this affect has a knock-on for economics and food supplies. If this acidity, known as ocean acidification, carries on increasing, coral reefs and many marine species with shells and exoskeletons will become extinct. Problems associated with shells made of calcium carbonate CaCO3 is nothing new, they also dissolve under extreme pressure, around 4,000m, this is known as the CCD or CCCD (Calcium Carbonate Compensation Depth). Therefore, we are already well aware of the fragility of marine organisms which utilise CaCO3 or a calcite polymorph Aragonite, which is even less stable.

The ocean conveyor is the term given to ocean currents that encircle the world. These currents are vital to current climatic conditions. The Arctic, effectively gives the system a ‘kick-start’, cold dense, brine water sinks to the seabed and is pushed south, to Antarctica, this circular flowing cold ocean provides for a sling-shot effect, as the current joins the rest of the globes five oceans. Without the sinking cold Arctic waters, the system slows, the Arctic is warming, meaning less cold water to sink. The Gulf Stream, and one of its off-shoots the North Atlantic Drift Current give northern Europe its mild climate, glaciers exist at the same latitude elsewhere in the world, the changes would be catastrophic.  


Critics rightly state that CO2 levels fluctuate naturally and this is seen in ice cores during the ice ages and interglacial periods but these are very different from the rise seen since the industrial revolution. It is anthropogenic activities that are responsible for the current increase in CO2 concentration in the atmosphere.


The World Meteorological Organisation WMO's State of the Global Climate 2020 report, described increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere resulting from human activities, as a major driver of climate change. In the last 60 years atmospheric CO2 has increased annually, around 100 times faster than natural increases.


Mass Extinction Events are not new, but if we continue on our current path, that is exactly what the human race will cause, and that won’t just effect humans, many species have already gone extinct in our lifetime, in geological terms, this is the Anthropocene.


One of the most import matters to come out of the climate change process is that of biodiversity loss. These matters were considered and signed up to during the Rio ‘Earth’ Summit, that was in 1992! The ‘Precautionary Principle’, was agreed, that is where when we do not have sufficient science then we must take a precautionary approach, this has not been used anywhere near enough, as there is still a great deal that we do not understand in the marine environment, complexities of a food web is one example. Biotechnology is another, it identifies a substance from the natural environment, we are able to produce a product commercially, biotechnology could protect from future pathogens, if we destroy the route source, we will never know. 


The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution’s 25th report, ‘Turning the Tide’, suggested that 30% no-take-zones were required if we are to support future marine extraction. That was 17 years ago. In Scotland the Scottish government suggest that 37% of Scottish seas are afforded protection; Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), however damaging processes such as scallop dredging and bottom trawling are still permitted, this damages seabed communities, that equates to NO PROTECTION! Scotland and indeed global waters need 30% No-Take-Zones, Scotland has less than 5%!


So here we are COP26, already some of the big polluters are not in agreement over coal emissions, the Prime Minister, asks for countries to engage, yet fails to rule out the new Cambo oil field. Another coal mine is being considered in the north of England, hypocrisy does not come close, from arguably the one case where the UK has been a world leader, that of the very process, the industrial revolution, the results of which has caused this climate crisis.


The warnings are in the name, COP 26, that means 25 COPs have gone before, much of the agreed Paris Agreement has yet to materialise, including the financial package supporting those countries that cannot pay themselves, some of whom, their very survival relies. Whatever is agreed and so far, some good things are being covered, will they materialise?

Words are cheap, action may be expensive, but not acting will be far worse!

References and further reading:


Atmospheric CarbonNOAAGreenpeace, BBC.

People - Part of the Problem, BUT Could be Part of the Solution!

At Marine Concern we run with the principle that we are part of the ecosystem, we could live alongside Scottish wildlife without adversely effecting the ecosystems that support them and the fisheries that arguably support both. This can only be done if we take stock of what we have done, what we are doing and stop damaging the marine environment that supports food stocks, the tourist industry and so much more.

The Royal Commission for Environmental Pollution's 25th Report; 'Turning the Tide' suggested that in order to maintain future extractions and preventing biodiversity loss we need 30 percent of Scottish seas to be 'No-Take-Zones'. These are areas that do exactly what it says; - NO-TAKE. Around the world areas that use areas of no take have seen greater fish diversity, larger species and more fish. Fishermen have targeted the boundaries of these reserves and have found greater catches for less fishing effort. We just need to make the change.

A reintroduction on the" mobile fishing fleet; of the 'Three-Mile Limit', preventing damaging dredging and benthic trawling in fish nursery grounds would be a start in the right direction. During COP 26 in Glasgow an Ayrshire MSP asked a General Question in the Scottish Parliament about MPAs. The government has suggested that it will put 10% as no-take-zones, an Ayrshire initiative is suggesting 30%, as put forward in the report, "Turning the Tide". Time will tell if the government is serious at supporting fisheries and the marine environment.

A Common Seal shot during a 'Seal Conservation Order'; dispite being reported, no action was taken!

Pictures for Thought;

Good Practice V's Bad Practice

Sea of the Hebrides; The Author was joined by Dolphins.

When marine mammals indeed any animal interacts with us as long as we use caution any potential problem is minimised. Actively searching them out and contravening Marine Watching Guidelines is not good for the animals and maybe not good for us either.

Souvenirs, what used to be seen as the 'norm' is now frowned upon and may cause untold damage to vulnerable ecosystems.

This salmon farm is situated within the Lismore SAC, a protected area for common seals. The floating diesel generator can be seen to the right of picture just 20m from the protected haul-out. Despite so called protection seals are shot here. Acoustic deterrents are routinely used in an attempt to 'scare' seals from the area. This region is a known 'hot-spot' for porpoise, acoustic deterrents are known to adversely affect porpoise. Porpoise are 'protected'. This type of activity, along with many other offences are not sustainable.

Common Examples of Problematic Human Interaction with Sealife.

A sperm whale was reported in Oban Bay. People flocked to see this rare sight. The whale was well out of its normal habitat and was probably ill and distressed. Boats obstructed its passage and got far to close. This kayaker probably touched the whale with his kayak. Apart from not being ethical it is illegal and dangerous. Whales are a protected species.

When done sympathetically with nature, sea kayaking is probably one of the least invasive marine activities. Watching/approaching without due concern, such as getting too close to seals while they are hauled out can cause stampedes, which can kill pups. Seals need to 'rest' and warm as part of their lifecycle, especially during the breeding season. Harassment is now an offence in Scotland with potentially large fines and imprisionment.

Plastic Plastic Plastic

The following pictures were taken in what is commonly thought of as a 'clean' sea loch.

They were also taken from the lochsides which run parallel to the prevailing winds; therefore

plastic accumulation would not be expected as at the leeward end of the loch.

The 'plastic' problem is Global and needs to be addressed from both a global and local perspective. As with single use plastic shopping bags we have proved that we can act and can make a difference. This issue is huge and needs to be addressed now, before it is too late, with an attempt to clear up the current mess which is now in the food chain, adversely affecting species and geological sediments.

Long term accumulation of plastics, some will never degrade

during our lifetimes.

Polypropylene, the World's second most widely produced plastic. Rope remains in tact for millennia. It kills indiscriminately.

Discarded and lost fishing nets continue fishing until they are recovered...

often never!

Deeply embedded plastic

within the strandline

Ring ties, bag handles and an array of other shapes trap animals of all sizes...please cut all loops and rings before putting out into the rubbish bins.

Many Seal Haul-Outs were NOT Designated; WHY?

One Question Marine Scotland has NEVER Answered.

 US MMPA Update: Imports/Seal Shooting

The Marine Scotland website has produced the following in respect to the effect of the US Imports under the Marine Mammal Protection Act with regard to the shooting of seals by UK fish farms.



“Part 6 of the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 seeks to balance seal conservation with other pressures and requirements, such as species conservation. On 1 February 2021 changes to Part 6 came into force which removed two reasons for which licences to kill or take seals could be granted. These are protecting the health and welfare of farmed fish and preventing serious damage to fisheries and fish farms:

  • it is an offence to kill or injure a seal except under licence or to alleviate suffering
  • a number of seal conservation areas around Scotland have been introduced, designed to protect vulnerable, declining Harbour seal populations
  • a seal licensing system, providing a well-regulated and monitored context for seal management in Scotland is in operation”.




Nobody knows how many seals are shot each year under licenses issued by Marine Scotland, part of the Scottish government.


no authority is actually counting! Bad enough you might think but read on, it gets worse, much worse.


The official Marine Scotland website will tell you that 245 Grey Seals and 113 Common or Harbour Seals were shot during the one year period covering 2017, but this is based on self reporting from an industry that has a very poor record for complying with environmental legislation (see the estimating methods devised by Marine Concern and accepted as the current best up to date method by several NGO's below).


PBR's and Counts

Permitted Biological Removal (PBR's) methods are used to determine how many seals can be 'taken', without having an adverse affect on the population. By definition when a population is in decline, the PBR should be zero but government paid scientists refuse to stand up to the mark.


Under the European Commission's Habitats Directive, a report on the 'conservation status' of species must be submitted every six years. In the UK this falls on the Special Committee on Seals and in Scotland the counts are conducted by the Seal Mammal Research Unit (SMRU). Counts were done on a yearly basis but now it appears that a rolling estimate over a five-year period has been adopted. This method cannot be as accurate as yearly counts and opens the whole system up to short-comings during a crisis, such as the PDV virus out breaks which have decimated huge colonies of Common Seals around Europe, up to 85% in some areas.


Making matters worse is the use of 'polygon' counts and alteration of the sizes of the polygons or the choosing of different populations, which has the ability to off-set the 'decline' ratios on Scotland's west coast.


Seals are inquisitive animals, they like to investigate; structures in the sea and oceans are known to attract species including fish, fish attract other predators, many seals will approach salmon farms as a result of these additional interests including wild fish. Many salmon farms have been placed along seal transit routes some even in Special Areas of Conservation for seals and even in protected areas Marine Scotland deem it fit to issue licenses to shoot seals.


The Scottish Rural College (SRUC), Inverness, currently holds a contract to record and investigate seal strandings in Scotland. This work is funded by the Scottish Government and is designed to support the new seal licensing system. It is worthy of note that that despite being part of the Marine Scotland license requirement only 2.3% of the Grey Seals shot and returned and 4.5% of the Common Seals shot and returned were subject to necropsy (animal autopsy).


Scientists from the Rural College stated concerns that only 'clean' kills were being returned, this has been covered in the online publication by Frontiers of Marine Science, with one quote, "Marksmen may choose to only recover seals that have been shot well".


Evidence from the report of necropsies indicated seals were being shot in the neck, the jaw and included multiple shots. "Clear evidence of seals being shot in ways that do not follow the Scottish Seal Management Code of Practice".


A very small number of seals, less than 10% actually predate on salmon installations and these have become known as salmon specialists. Of the shot, seals returned their stomach contents following necropsy indicate just 2 to 3% salmon studying both ear bones (otoliths) and DNA testing. Some of the shot seals returned from salmon netsmen had no salmon in their stomachs at all.


More than 35% of necropsied seals were found to be either pregnant or lactating and this creates huge welfare issues, the seal pup picture on Marine Concern's 'Contacts' page is one such pup left to die for over a week; emaciated. The Conservation of Seals Act 1970 has restrictions for the breeding seasons; the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 however, does not.


There may be more than 50% of shot seals considered under the 'Struck and Lost' numbers that is the seals that have been shot but escape, often to die a long painful death. A conservative figure given to those that have been under reported or not reported at all is set at 25%, although this figure might be much higher. Adding these figures together with the pregnant or lactating figures takes the latest government figures up to at least 752.


Marine Concern's Method of Accounting for Seals Shot in Scotland

Marine Scotland's 'official' figures

Additional numbers added due to being pregnant and/or lactating     (35%)

Additional figures added due to 'Struck and Loss'                               (50%)

Additional figures added due to lack of reporting, [conservative]        (25%)


Seals Shot in Scotland More Likely to be 800 plus per Year!

Dispite around 2,000 Seals, Marine Scotland still refused to

Designate the Ythan as a Protected Haul-out.

The Protection eventually came after mass public pressure.

The CRRU Report states: "The current system of self-regulation within the industry is clearly inadequate and officials in offices fail to acknowledge the shortfall in reporting. Evidently, numerous kills go unrecorded, multiple kills may not be reported, unlawful sinking and/or dumping of carcasses deliberately occurs, plus there is no accounting for "struck and loss" figures (which may account for up to 50% of all reported clean kills)".


Mind-Set.It is worth noting the 'mid-set' of those in the industry when thinking about seals being shot, as it is not your normal 'town or country' public perspective. Under the Conservation of Seals Act 1970, which is still in force in England and Wales the term 'rogue' developed. Rogue seals could be shot under the terms of the Act. The associated industries turned this around, with many stating that ALL seals were 'ROGUE' and therefore could be shot. There have been personal accounts witnessed (Pers Comms) of fish farm workers laughing about it on site and in local hostelries.  Even under the new Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 this false and illegal ideology exists.


Not Listening. Marine Concern and previously Hebridean Partnership have been involved with the seal shooting issue for more than 20 years. During that time communication with the relevant authorities and the Scottish government has been attempted, with limited success. Often the criteria set by the authorities is altered to exclude 'conservation' groups, in the case of the Scottish Seals Forum a leading member of the Scottish government stated, "I have no intention of creating a balance in the group", which at the time was three to one in favour of the commercial industries.


Recent contact with the government once again called for a 'level playing field’ that includes ALL 'Stakeholders', which includes the public and NGO's. That's nothing new and is laid down in the principles of the Rio 'Earth' Summit under Agenda 21...involving communities. However, the government failed to even supply a definition of 'sustainable', a word currently being banded about by politicians like confetti.


'Sustainable', was covered in The World Commission's Report, 'Our Common Future', known as the Bruntland Report states,"Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs", however current authorities and politicians generally appear not to want to adopt this widely accepted reference when dealing with growth in their own back yards!


Currently salmon production in Scotland is far from being 'sustainable'. Closed-containment would go someway to enabling expansion of the industry without further damaging Scotland's pristine coastal waters and good reputation.





References Used, Further Reading and Links


Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee: report on the environmental impacts of salmon farming


Robinson, K.P. (2014) A Fishy Business—Of Seals, Salmon and Fisheries in Scotland. Cetacean Research & Rescue Unit, Banff.


Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) Report for ECCLR Review of the Environmental Impacts of Salmon Farming in Scotland 02468_0001, Issue 01, 24\01\2017




Time for change in Scottish salmon farmingSWT


Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future


Marine Scotland Seal Licensing




Plus much more, if you would like futher information please contact Marine Concern via the Contacts page.



Seals are Inquisitive Animals; they can be Shot for just being Friendly.

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