A crucial forum for the protection of seals has been abandoned as pressure grows to stop the mammals being shot in Scotland.

The Scottish Seals Forum, set up by Scottish Ministers in 2002, has failed to hold a single meeting in the last six years, prompting campaigners to question the Government's commitment to protecting seals.

It met regularly between 2002 and 2010 and brought together Government agencies, experts, animal groups, salmon farmers, anglers and others.

Its remit was to "develop a co-ordinated approach to the management of Scottish seal populations".

But despite suggestions by campaigners that it should meet again, it has not reconvened.

The Scottish Government is reviewing whether there's a need for any further meetings. Animal welfare groups argue that the forum is now essential so the threat to the future of the salmon farming industry can be discussed.

Libby Anderson, policy adviser for the Scottish animal welfare charity OneKind, thinks the forum is needed more so now than ever before.

"I attended the seals forum for several years.

"It was once a critical means of bringing the industry, Government and non-governmental organisations like our own together to seek agreement on how to protect seals."

"It should be discussing the latest research that shows seals are suffering, and the US decision to ban imports of Scottish salmon unless seals are protected.

"We urgently need leadership or Scotland will face having its salmon exports excluded from one of the world's biggest markets because of its poor animal welfare standards.

"This would needlessly damage Scotland's reputation and our economy."

Alan Knight, chief executive of International Animal Rescue, also used to attend the forum.

He said: "We definitely need a Government voice in the debate about seal killing in Scotland.

"The law needs to be tightened to protect seals and the forum should be reinstated with a minister as chair."

Mark Ruskell MSP, the environment spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, added: "An import ban looms and yet ministers seem blasé about the impact this could have on one of their key food export sectors.

"The forum must be re-established and get the industry to seal-friendly status as soon as possible."

According to the Scottish Government, the Scottish Seals Forum was established to provide a medium to exchange information.

A spokeswoman said: "Outwith these official meetings, the work done by the forum continues via regular discussions between the Scottish Government, its agencies and stakeholders."

Ruskell asked the Government whether the Scottish salmon-farming industry was compliant with a new US animal welfare regulation.

The regulation says "the harvesting nation must demonstrate it has prohibited the intentional mortality or serious injury of marine mammals in the course of commercial fishing operations".

Rural Economy Minister Fergus Ewing replied by stressing that compliance with import regulations in another country was a matter for exporting companies.

"The seal licensing system in Scotland enables fish farms to control seal predation as a means of last resort."