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Last week

(Last Updated: Wednesday 15 June)

Spey’s Seal Licence Rejected 

Grave, if not unexpected, news from the Spey Board that their 2022 Seal Licence  application has been rejected.

Grounds for rejection include that “the removal of some seals might have an adverse impact on the conservation objectives of designated sites”. Good luck with interpreting that.

Other reasons are given, all almost equally incomprehensible and coming from a Government whose latest Scottish Wild Salmon Strategy is based on the Atlantic salmon species being under threat, and that natural predation is a significant part of the problem, both birds and seals.

If I read that Strategy correctly, there is a commitment to review the bird licensing system, but it is (suspiciously) much more silent when it comes to seals.

I fear politics is behind it, for how can a Government in league with the Greens and Mr Patrick Harvie, be seen to be authorising the killing of those cuddly doey eyed seals, even in  insignificantly small numbers.

The questions should be simple:

Is it true that the Atlantic salmon is under existential threat as never before?
Is it true that the grey seal is far from under threat and is also a significant predator of Atlantic salmon?
If the answer to both of these is “yes”, then the correct conservation response is to offer some very modest and limited protection, from predating seals, to the Atlantic salmon once they have entered the river system (be it the Spey or any other Scottish river). This is all the Spey was seeking.

Nothing else, least of all political considerations, should be relevant. We are talking about the survival of a species, nothing less, if you believe ICES, NASCO, The Missing Salmon Alliance, The Atlantic Salmon Trust, The Salmon & trout Conservation Trust, Fisheries Management Scotland, the Scottish Government itself and others. The Scottish salmon catch figures for 2021, just published, were the worst ever recorded. 

For context, here is an extract from the NatureScot website;

The grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) is only found in the North Atlantic, the Baltic Sea and the Barents Sea. As one of the rarer seal species worldwide, its entire population is around 400,000 individuals. About 40% of all grey seals live in UK waters – and about 90% of this number breed at colonies in Scotland.

In other words, 40% of 400,000 or 160,000 grey seals are in the UK, and 90% (or 144,000) breed in colonies in Scotland. Grey seals can each live for 30 years and weigh up to 300kg. They eat a lot of fish. There are also up to 24,000 common (or harbour) seals in Scotland.

For further context, best recent estimates from ICES are that numbers of adult Atlantic salmon returning to Scotland’s rivers have decreased from over and around 1 million in the 1970s and 1980s, to 250,000 now.

144,000 grey seals and 24,000 harbour seals, making 168,000 seals in total in Scotland.

And just 250,000 salmon.

Can that be right? Someone, please, tell me it is not.

And the Spey could not get permission to protect the dwindling stock of Scottish salmon by killing just one or two seals that stray into the river, and which stay there with the only purpose of eating passing salmon? 

Thank you to Andrew Douglas-Home for this report.


Helpful Information

Tackle Shops and Outfitters on Spey

Guides and Instructions on the River spey

Where To Stay on Speyside

Where To Eat 

Fishing Permits for the River Spey




Alex Mitchell with his first ever salmon, a lovely fresh grilse.


Season so far

(Last Updated: Wednesday 23 March)

An update will appear in due course.  

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