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Minutes of the Seals Forum (4)

MINUTES OF THE 4 th MEETING OF THE SEALS FORUM
THURSDAY 11 th MARCH 2004 , THISTLE HOTEL, INVERNESS

Attendees
Scottish Executive Environment & Rural Affairs Department (SEERAD)
Sea Mammal Research Unit, St Andrews
Scottish Natural Heritage
Fisheries Research Services Freshwater Laboratory
Fisheries Research Services Marine Laboratory
Joint Nature Conservation Committee
University Marine Biological Station Millport
Lighthouse Field Station, Cromarty
University of Aberdeen
Countryside Council for Wales
Highlands & Islands Fishermen's Association
Scottish White Fish Producers Association
Spey Fishery Board
Salmon Net Fishing Association
Tourism and Environment Forum
Scottish SPCA
Welcome and Introductions
The Chair welcomed everybody to the fourth meeting of the Seals Forum and indicated that the main purpose of this meeting was to discuss the recommendations of the Working Group and to agree the next steps.

Minutes of the third meeting and matters arising
All participants agreed the minutes of the previous meeting as a fair record of events.

The Forum reviewed the action points arising from the previous meeting. The majority had been completed, although there were a few that were currently ongoing.

SMRU/FRS to meet to review funding sources for future research/modelling. It was noted that there are ongoing discussions between FRS and SMRU on this issue. Proposals developed to date, have not attracted funding, but there is the possibility that funding could be made available in the next few months through the Scottish Executives Environment Group Bids.

Working Group to look at other sources of research and how this could fit in with the SCOS remit. This has had been done through the working papers on the four activity areas and was one of the items for discussion.

SMRU to approach NERC about reallocating the survey budget to research purposes. Ian Boyd raised with SCOS the possibility of decreasing the annual grey seal survey to once every two years in order to release money for research projects. The view of SCOS was that SMRU should not move away from annual surveys because: 1) it is not know what effect a decrease in survey will have on the quality of population estimates - modelling will be required to investigate this; and 2) the recent changes in grey seal pup production, and the apparent stabilisation of pup production at some colonies, mean that regular monitoring is likely to be particularly productive. Action: To review again in early 2005.

Mike Flynn to investigate firearms licensing procedure. Mike Flynn provided a paper summarising the procedures followed by police forces around Scotland .

Legislative Matrix and notes. Action: SEERAD to produce final version of matrix and re-circulate to Forum and publish on website.

Advice from the Special Committee on Seals (SCOS) - 2003 Annual Report
The Chair thanked the Special Committee on Seals (SCOS) for producing the annual scientific advice and the Working Group for preparing a series of the recommendations based on this advice for the Forum to consider.

Questions 1, 2 and 5 (seal populations and their distribution)
The Forum acknowledged the uncertainties involved in estimating seal population size and distribution patterns. However, they agreed that improvements in population modelling techniques and more satellite tagging operations would help to reduce these uncertainties.

The Forum endorsed the Working Group recommendation that the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) continue to refine estimates of seal population and distribution patterns.

Questions 3 and 4 (seal predation on fish)
The Forum considered that more research was necessary to reduce uncertainties and to obtain more reliable estimates of fish consumption. One point of particular concern to the Forum was that, following the current diet study, there would be a need to regularly update the information after its completion. Action: Working Group to look at how the diet study work can be continued, drawing on similar research currently underway in the UK .

The Forum endorsed the Working Group recommendations.

Question 6 (seal bycatch)
The Forum noted that, while there is no formal monitoring of seal bycatch in fishing nets, evidence collected through FRS's ongoing fisheries observer programme and SMRU's cetacean observer scheme suggest that seal bycatch in UK fisheries is at a low level. However, they agreed that there was a general patchiness in data both at a European and UK level, emphasising the need to tap into data from other countries. Action: MT to approach ICES for information on seal bycatch in European fisheries. FRS to maintain formal records of seal bycatch [and approach Danish colleagues for information on seal bycatch in the sand eel fishery.]

In addition, Stephen Westcott offered information on seal bycatch and damage to fisheries in Cornwall .

The Forum endorsed the Working Group recommendations.

Questions 7 and 8 (data from fishermen, fish farms and wildlife tour operators)
The Forum noted that there was a need for more information on interactions between seals and humans in the four activity areas. Of particular concern, is the lack of information on seals shot outwith the 'close season' which adds to the degree of uncertainty that exists in population estimates. It was hoped that a common approach to data collection and quality control would allow data to be collected locally and used for scientific purposes. Action: SMRU to report to the Working Group on the outcome of the initiative to develop methods of systematic data collection.

The Forum endorsed the recommendation that the Working Group actively pursue a common approach to data collection.

Questions 9 and 10 (seal impact on the recovery of cod and salmon stocks)
In order to address the impact of seal predation on the recovery of cod and salmon stocks, the Forum agreed that these two fisheries would need to be considered separately rather than as one specific recommendation. The Forum also felt that there was still a considerable degree of uncertainty and lack of conclusive data on the overall effects of seal predation, which could not be determined until more information became available. In particular, it was hoped that the ongoing diet study in the Moray Firth would provide some information on seal diet and their impact on salmonid stocks. Action: SEERAD to circulate the results of the Moray Firth diet study to Forum members.

The Forum felt that the current Working Group recommendation should be returned to the Group for reconsideration, to clarify where research might best be focused to reduce the uncertainties. The revised recommendation to be circulated to Forum with the draft SCOS questions for 2004. Action: The Working Group to reconsider the recommendation, and circulate to the Forum.

Question 12 (seals and SAC's)
The general consensus of the Forum was that a range of terms used in the Habitats Directive for instance, favourable conservation status, required working definitions. This would provide a sound basis for future management. Action: SEERAD and SNH to look into improving the interpretation of European legislation regarding seals and SACs.

The Forum endorsed the Working Group recommendation.

Questions 11, and 13 to 15 (favourable conservation status, impact of PDV and the future of the Conservation Order)
The Forum endorsed the Working Group recommendation that the current Conservation Order introduced to protect seals during the recent PDV outbreak, should be allowed to run its course until September 2004 and that there was no requirement for another Order with respect to the risk from PDV. The Forum also agreed that at the current time there was no justification to introduce another Order in Scotland , although this decision would be kept under review pending the outcome of the Moray Firth Seal Management Plan.

The Forum noted SCOS's views about the specific situation in the Moray Firth and discussed what appropriate measures might be taken. The Forum was provided with a brief overview of ASFB's Moray Firth Management Plan which emphasised the need for a co-ordinated and flexible approach to future seal management in this region and the need for all interested bodies to be actively involved to ensure that it was consistent with the legislative framework currently in place.

The Forum supported the aims of the Moray Firth Seal Management Plan but emphasised the need to develop it and to include, for example, non-lethal removal options. Action: SWG to pursue development of the Moray Firth Seal Management Plan to address specific management issues in this area and report to Forum.

Working Group Papers on the four identified activity areas
The Forum reviewed the three Working Papers submitted from Andrew Wallace (Wild Salmon Fisheries), William Shearer (Salmon Net Fisheries) and Caroline Warburton (Seal Tourism).

William Shearer offered to support SEERAD's seal scarer project and Alistair Prior suggest Scottish Aquaculture Forum as possible sources of funds. Action: SMRU to explore with WS and AP.

Drafting Questions for the Special Committee on Seals (SCOS) - 2004
The Forum noted that the Working Group will meet in early May 2004 to draft questions for SCOS which will be circulated to the Forum for comment, prior to submission to SCOS in late June 2004.

AOB
The fifth meeting of the Seals Forum will be held on Monday 3 March 2005 at either Perth or Pitlochry. Action: SEERAD to confirm arrangements to Forum members.

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