The Moray Firth Seal Management Plan: an adaptive framework for balancing the conservation of seals, salmon, fisheries and wildlife tourism in the UK

J R A Butler, S J Middlemas, S A McKelvey, I McMyn, B Leyshon, I Walker, P M Thompson, Ian Lamont Boyd, Callan David Duck, J D Armstrong, Isla Margaret Graham, J M Baxter

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47 Citations (Scopus)


1. Within the Moray Firth, north-east Scotland, there is a history of conflict between seals and salmon fisheries. Under the UK's Conservation of Seals Act 1970 (CoSA) seals are shot to protect fisheries. In 1999 six rivers in the Moray Firth were designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) for Atlantic salmon under the EU Habitats Directive, and in 2000 an SAC for harbour seals was designated in the Dornoch Firth. 2. In the 1990s salmon stocks declined. Fisheries managers believed the decline was partly caused by seal predation and consequently increased shooting effort. In years 1993-2003 Moray Firth harbour seal numbers declined possibly due to shooting, posing a potential threat to the status of the Dornoch Firth SAC. Meanwhile wildlife tourism based on marine mammals has increased. The declines in salmon and harbour seals, and the implementation of the Habitats Directive forced a watershed in the approach of statutory authorities to managing seals, salmon and tourism. 3. In years 2002-2005 local District Salmon Fishery Boards, the Scottish Executive, Scottish Natural Heritage and stakeholders negotiated a pilot Moray Firth Seal Management Plan to restore the favourable conservation status of seal and salmon SACs, and to reduce shooting of harbour seals and seal predation on salmon. 4. Key facets of the plan are the management of the Moray Firth region under a CoSA Conservation Order; application of the Potential Biological Removal concept to identify it limit of seals to be killed; management areas where removal of seals is targeted to protect salmon, while avoiding seal pupping and tourism sites; a traning and reporting system for marksmen: a research programme. and a framework allowing all annual review of the plan. 5. The plan was introduced in April 2005. A maximum limit of 60 harbour and 70 grey seals was set. Forty-six-harbour and 33 grey seals were killed in 2005 while in 2006 these figures were 16 and 42 respectively. Although the numbers killed were below the maximum limits in both years file returns raised questions about the plan's ability to manage seal shooting at netting stations. The plan provides a useful adaptive co-management framework for balancing seal and salmon conservation with the protection of fisheries and/or fish farms and tourism for application in the UK and internationally.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1025-1038
Number of pages14
JournalAquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2008


  • Atlantic salmon
  • adaptive co-management
  • fisheries
  • grey seal
  • harbour seal
  • potential biological removal
  • Special Area of Coservation
  • wildlife tourism
  • AREA


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