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Minutes of the Seals Forum (5)

MINUTES OF THE 5th MEETING OF THE SEALS FORUM

THURSDAY 3rd MARCH 2005, SCOTLAND'S HOTEL, PITLOCHRY

Attendees

Scottish Executive Environment and Rural affairs Department (SEERAD)

Sea Mammal Research Unit, St Andrews

Fisheries Research Services: Freshwater Laboratory

Fisheries Research Services: Marine Laboratory

Lighthouse Field Station, Cromarty

Highlands & Islands Fishermen's Association

Scottish Fishermen's Federation

Association of Salmon Fishery Boards

The Atlantic Salmon Trust

Salmon Net Fishing Association

Tourism and Environment Forum

Wild Scotland

Scottish SPCA

Marine Conservation Society

International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)

Welcome and Introductions

The Chair welcomed everyone to the fifth meeting of the Seals Forum and indicated that the main purpose of the meeting was to discuss the Moray Firth Pilot Seal Management Plan.

Minutes of the fourth meeting and matters arising

Subject to one minor correction, the members agreed the minutes of the previous meeting.

The Forum reviewed the action points arising from the previous meeting. The majority had been completed, although it was agreed that two would be carried forward.

Advice from the Special Committee on Seals (SCOS) - 2004 Annual Report

The Chair thanked the Forum and Working Group for preparing the questions submitted and the Special Committee on Seals (SCOS) for producing the annual scientific advice.

Questions 1, 2 and 3 (seal populations and their impact on fisheries)

The Forum noted the responses to these questions.

Question 4 (non-lethal population control methods)

The Forum noted the response to this question. It considered that it might be worth testing the current non-lethal immunological population control methods on a small scale. This would provide some clarification of their potential for use in Scotland. Action: Working Group to consider a small scale trial of immunological seal population control to clarify the potential for this in Scotland.

Questions 5, 6 and 7 (seal distribution)

The Forum noted the responses to these questions.

Questions 7 and 8 (Moray Firth seals)

The Forum noted the responses to these questions. It was felt that the picture of local seal populations in the Moray Firth might benefit from the use of historical data taken from a longer time period. Action: Working Group to consider the potential value of less recent historical data for local seal populations.

Question 10 (Barra seals)

The Forum noted the response to this question. It was noted that local declines in common seal numbers were not unprecedented and perhaps survey effort should be increased in such areas. Action: Working Group to explore SNH plans for focused studies of local common seal populations.

Drafting Questions for the Special Committee on Seals (SCOS) - 2005

The Forum noted that the Working Group will meet in early May 2005 to draft questions for SCOS which will be circulated to the Forum for comment, prior to submission to SCOS in June/July 2005.

The Moray Firth Seal Management Plan Pilot

The Forum was provided with a presentation on this Plan. It considered that further action was required on two important issues. The first related to the animal welfare and health and safety aspects of any shooting of seals under the Plan. It was felt that the training proposed under the Plan should encompass these issues, in addition to those of seal biology and identification, and that a good practice code should be developed. Action: SEERAD to arrange an early Workshop on good practice in seal management issues.

The second issue raised by the Forum related to the presentation of the Plan when it was finally published. It was felt that this would be an important factor in the future of the Plan and that it was therefore essential to seek support from as wide a constituency as possible. Action: SEERAD to consider a presentation strategy for the Plan.

The Forum were content to endorse the latest version of the Plan and its progress towards implementation on this basis. (IFAW and Wild Scotland reserved their positions to allow for internal consultation.)

Seal Research

The Forum noted the latest position on seal research. It was considered however that it would be useful to review the overall position on seal research in order to identify any remaining gaps and consider how these might be addressed. Action: Working Group to review existing and planned seal research to identify gaps and consider how these might be addressed.

AOB

SEERAD tabled additional papers on:-

Membership : - The Forum requested clarification of the current rules of operation for the Forum but were otherwise content for SEERAD to consider applications for membership subject to existing members' comments. Action: SEERAD to circulate a paper on the current rules and to consider applications for membership in light of members comments.

FOI and Data Protection : - The Forum noted the contents of this paper.

Date of the Next Meeting

The sixth meeting of the Seals Forum will be held in March 2006 at Pitlochry.