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Minutes of the Seals Forum (3)


Scottish Executive's Environment & Rural Affairs Department (SEERAD)
Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU)
Scottish Natural Heritage
Fisheries Research Services Freshwater Laboratory
Fisheries Research Services Marine Laboratory
Joint Nature Conservation Committee
Highlands & Islands Fishermen's Association
The Atlantic Salmon Trust
Association of Salmon Fishery Boards
Salmon and Trout Association ( Scotland )
Salmon Net Fishing Association
Scottish Angler's National Association
Tourism and Environment Forum
Scottish SPCA

Introductions The Chair welcomed everybody to the third meeting of the Working Group and indicated that the main purpose of this meeting was to discuss the circulated papers and to agree next steps.

Minutes of the previous meeting and matters arising
All participants agreed the minutes of the previous meeting with no amendments.

All matters arising from the previous meeting would be discussed throughout the course of the meeting in the context of the circulated papers. No new matters were raised.

Report and Recommendations from the Steering Group
Paper SSWG11 was based on discussions from the Steering Group held in April 2003. Specific points addressed were:

Research and Management Proposals. It was considered that the Steering Group would function more effectively by delivering its research and management work programme through four activity areas where known interactions between seals and humans exist: capture fisheries, salmonid fisheries, fish farming and tourism. It was agreed that discussion of all four areas would be underpinned by nature conservation policy drivers/obligations.

Establish an expanded steering group. It was thought that the Steering Group would function more effectively by delivering its work through a slightly expanded steering group rather than through the current proposed two sub-groups. This new group would include representatives with an interest in any of the four areas of interaction, allowing work to be tackled in a more focused and productive way. All interested members are encouraged to put themselves forward for nomination. ACTION: Participants interested in joining this group should register their interest with the marine Protection Team as soon as possible.

Funding sources. Following on from the recommendations of SSWG 11, it was thought that there would be benefit in developing a series of models for each of the four activity areas. SMRU and FRS to work together to review how they can move this forward. ACTION: SMRU and FRS to arrange a meeting to review funding resources for future research / modelling (ERGIS, JNCC and SNH to be involved to ensure co-ordination and avoid research overlaps)

All members agreed to the proposals in paper SSWG11, pending further discussions on the Status of the Working Group and the proposed SCOS questions in SSWG 12 and SSWG 13.

Status of the Working Group and the Steering Group (SSWG12) Paper SSWG 12 focussed on the mechanism of the two Groups and how they could effectively take their work programmes forward in the future. In particular, it was felt that the members should recall that the Working Group was primarily intended as a communication forum, in which information pertaining to the management of seal populations could be exchanged. Specific points addressed were:

Nomenclature of the Seals Group. In light of proposed changes to the role of the Steering Group, it was suggested that it would be more sensible for the current Working Group to be known as the Seals Forum and the current Steering Group to be known as the Working Group. All present members present agreed to the changes.

NB. All reference from here on will follow these agreed changes .

Frequency of meetings. All members present agreed that there would be benefit holding the Seals Forum on an annual basis in late February/early March. This would allow the Forum to feed into the questions posed to SCOS, and to analyse feedback from the previous year's response. At this time the Forum was unsure as to how forthcoming meetings would operate, but would be open to any suggestions.

Remit of the Working Group. It was proposed that the Working Group would function more effectively by adopting a flexible approach in its operation. This would involve maintaining a small, but balanced group of key representatives who would take forward the main work programme, and feed into the larger Forum as necessary. All interested parties (within the Forum) would be invited to actively take part in the Working Group, as and when specific issues of concern were addressed. How the work programme would be taken forward would be discussed by the Working Group at its next meeting. ACTION: Working Group to consider their Terms of Reference and future operations by the next meeting of the Seals Forum.

In order to facilitate communication between the Forum and Working Group, it was suggested that a contact list for all members of the Forum should be created (preferably an e-mail distribution list). This would ensure that any specific issues under discussion by the Working Group (including working papers) could be circulated to all interested parties within the Forum. ACTION: SEERAD to produce an email list of all Forum participants.

Venue of the next meeting. The Forum felt that to engage more effectively with stakeholders and other interested parties, there would be benefit in holding future meetings of the Seal Forum away from Edinburgh . Inverness was chosen for the next meeting in 2004. ACTION: SEERAD to make arrangements for the next Seals Forum meeting in Inverness .

Draft Questions for the Special Committee on Seals (SSWG 13)
Paper SSWG 13 provided a set of specific questions to be addressed to SCOS against a brief preambular text summarising our current state of knowledge. Following on from the recommendations of the Working Group, the Forum was invited to both endorse the draft questions, and suggest additional questions that may be appropriate for consideration by the Working Group. It should be noted that the final decision on questions to be addressed to SCOS ultimately lies with SEERAD. Specific points of discussion were:

Co-ordination of SCOS questions. The Forum agreed that a more integrated approach to future SCOS questions should be sought by all administrations throughout the UK . This would reduce possible repetitiveness of questions, and encourage a more co-ordinated approach in contributing to seal management and research. ACTION: SEERAD to contact Defra to discuss proposals to establish a common approach to framing future SCOS questions.

Approach to the annual SCOS questions. After extensive discussions, the Forum agreed that there would be benefit in adopting a structured and more focused approach when addressing forthcoming SCOS questions. This would involve implementing a two tier system incorporating:

  • Standard long-term questions updated by SCOS on an annual basis, as part of a rolling programme.
  • Specific short - term questionsrelating to current areas of conflict or research.

Such an approach would reduce the repetitiveness of previous year's questions, (which has often been the case with long-term monitoring projects); therefore allowing SCOS to focus on more specific issues within the context of the four activity areas. Each question should be framed in the 'best possible way' to obtain the most effective answer for the Forum to work with.

The Forum thought that further consideration should be given to the benefit of adopting a systems approach when addressing specific questions on seal / fisheries interactions (i.e. capture, salmonid, fish farms). At the most basic level this would involve asking three questions in relation to each interaction.
- Is the interaction significant? (requires quantification of effects and assessment of 'significance')
- Is it possible to affect this interaction? (i.e., through the use of lethal or non-lethal management methods)
- Is this intervention acceptable? (in relation to e.g. conservation status, legislative framework)

Adopting this type of approach, would increase general understanding about the current state of play in relation to particular interactions, allowing the Forum to identify gaps in knowledge and focus forthcoming research (and SCOS questions) in a more specific manner if and when necessary. If such questions were considered at the outset, it would also promote better time and resource management - particularly when drafting SCOS questions. ACTION: The Working Group to consider the merits of adopting this approach.

The following questions were put to the Forum for consideration by the Working Group at their next meeting:

1. How may observations of fisheries/seal interactions be collated and evaluated?

2. How may these interactions be managed without adopting lethal methods?

3. What is the bycatch of seals in fishing trawls?

The Forum also felt that more questions on seal damage and methods of managing such damage (through the development of acoustic deterrents) should be raised through questions to SCOS. ACTION: Working Group to redraft SCOS questions, thinking about short and long term targets in the context of the four activity areas (Para 17), and the additional questions raised by the Forum (Para 19).

Alternative sources of advice. The Forum acknowledged that the advice received from SCOS was very specific, focusing predominantly on science and research. There was no provision of information on the social or economic impacts of seal populations, which was the main point of interest from some organisations. With this is mind, the group questioned the feasibility of seeking other sources of advice on management, social and economic issues, or approaching NERC with a view to change the direction of current advice. By adopting such a system, this would allow SCOS to focus on more specific areas of research / interaction. The current membership of SCOS can be found at Annex A.ACTION: The Working Group to look at other sources of research and how this could fit in with the remit of SCOS.

Consideration was given to how funds could be released for future research. Where funding for SMRU was concerned, this would be at the discretion of NERC. However, suggestions of a reassessment of the annual grey seal surveys (in favour of a three-year rolling programme) was put forward. While this would allow SMRU to address more specific research questions, it was emphasised that the final decision would rest with NERC. ACTION: SMRU to approach NERC to discuss the possibility of reallocating the survey budget to address other questions.

Legislative Matrix for the Management of Seal Populations (SSWG 14)
All participants agreed that the matrix was a useful document summarising information on the management of seal populations in the UK , and that there would be benefit in giving it wider circulation. All circulation would be in draft form, pending participant feedback and solicitor approval. ACTION: All comments on the matrix to be sent to SEERAD by 22 May

Seal Licensing. The group thought that there a general lack of knowledge regarding the possession of a firearms licence for the purpose of shooting seals, and whether the licence had to have a specific endorsement to shoot seals. Members of the group thought there might be regional variation. ACTION: SSPCA to investigate the firearms licensing procedure.

Some members of the group acknowledged that a degree of confusion existed in determining when it was acceptable to kill seals to protect fisheries. On this basis, it was felt that there would be benefit in producing a 'checklist' or guidance note, based on the matrix in SSWG 14 to which individuals or organisations could refer. ACTION: SEERAD to look into the possibility of producing 'Guidelines on seal management'

Phocine Distemper Virus (PDV).The number of dead seals reported for the UK have been at a low level consistent with background mortality since the beginning of 2003, suggesting that the PDV epidemic appears to be over. However, there still remains a possibility of PDV recurring in late spring or summer when the seals begin to haul out in groups for the breeding seasons. Consequently, close monitoring of dead seal reports continues in the UK .

Recent sampling work conducted by SMRU within grey seal populations has shown that young grey seals had been exposed to the virus. However, additional surveys will need to be undertaken to determine if the outbreak had any longer term effects.

Date of next meeting
The next meeting of the Forum will take place in March 2004 at Inverness. Venue to be confirmed.