North Highland College defends seal management award
A college has defended a qualification it offers in seal management which includes an option to complete a practical shooting test.
The course has been criticised by the charity Save Our Seals Fund.
North Highland College UHI introduced its award in seal management in 2011, before developing it at the request of the Scottish government.
The college said the aim of the award was to improve management practices, and to better protect seals.
In Scotland, it is illegal to kill or injure a seal except under licence or for welfare reasons.
Licences to shoot seals have been granted for health and welfare reasons, or where the animals have been found to be causing serious damage to fish farms.
But Save Our Seals Fund, which was made aware of the college award this week, said the college and government should focus on methods of deterring seals, rather than killing them.
Thurso-based North Highland College UHI, which is part of the University of the Highlands and Islands, offers a practical shooting test as part of its Seal Management Professional Development Award.
Students qualified in deer stalking can opt to do the course without having to complete the shooting test.
The college said a small number of candidates had completed the award since its introduction in 2011.
In a statement, the college said: "This award was developed at the request of the Scottish government to provide a national qualification in accordance with the requirements of the Marine (Scotland) Act, 2010.
"The provisions in the Act are designed to increase protection for seals and improve the quality of seal management practices in Scotland.
"The primary aim of this qualification is to provide knowledge and skills in specified areas which will prepare candidates to apply for a licence to undertake seal management under the provisions of the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010."
'Highly technical jobs'
John Robins, of Save Our Seals Fund, said it was cheaper to shoot seals than to install deterrents such as anti-seal nets at fish farms.
He said he had also learned that the US government is to introduce a ban in 2022 on imports of fish raised where lethal methods are used to control marine mammals.
Mr Robins said: "I would suggest the college course should be about the development, installation and maintenance of anti-seal deterrents.
"This would help create highly technical jobs rather than part-time jobs in shooting seals."
The practice of shooting seals has been controversial for a number of years.
In 2015, campaigners welcomed a ruling forcing the Scottish government to reveal how many seals are shot each year at individual salmon farms.
This year, 18 common and 40 grey seals have been shot.
Scotland has an estimated 120,000 grey seals and at least 25,400 common seals, according to Scottish government figures.
A Scottish government spokeswoman said: "In 2010 parliament introduced a new law (The Marine (Scotland) Act 2010) to protect seals.
"This included a legal requirement that anyone undertaking seal management had adequate skills and experience to do so.
"Marine Scotland asked the Scottish Qualifications Authority to work with Scottish colleges to develop a training course to meet this statutory duty.
"North Highland College offered to do this and have been running their course successfully since 2011."