Last of a five-part series
LONDON, U.K.––When Britannia ruled the waves, when the sun never set on the British Empire, Rudyard Kipling in 1894 published The Jungle Book, in which the hero Mowgli’s father introduced The Law of the Jungle, governing animal and human relations: “Ye may kill for yourselves, and your mates, and your cubs as they need, and ye can, but kill not for pleasure of killing, and seven times never kill Man.”
Already there was the Victorian paradox that Britain was renowned and self-celebrated as a nation of animal lovers, yet dreaded by animal advocates everywhere else.
Even as the United Kingdom introduced humane societies modeled on the Royal SPCA worldwide, sometimes building them on the ruins of much older Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu humane institutions, British soldiers, sailors, entrepreneurs and colonists likewise exported trophy hunting, dogfighting, fox hunting, egg collecting, vivisection, and recreational taxidermy.
Built ivory trade
As a deliberate project of the Empire, Britain built railroads across Africa to facilitate the international ivory trade. Having long ago escaped from control by the British Commonwealth, the ivory trade now threatens elephants in both Africa and Asia with widespread extirpation and perhaps even extinction.
Almost any crime against animals and nature that either the U.S. or China might be accused of, in short, may fairly be said to have had a British precedent, albeit that some of those crimes also had precedents extending back through the eras of Spanish conquest and Imperial Rome.
Treaties have U.K. origins
But, in fairness, international treaties and conservation projects meant to protect and restore wildlife and habitat also have substantial British origins, and the United Kingdom still has outsized influence within most, perhaps all of the global entities working on behalf of wildlife.
Within the European Union, explains the Royal SPCA briefing paper on what the proposed British exit from the E.U. might mean for animals, “Eleven laws covering wildlife fall into two areas: those that are part of international treaties and those that are not.”
Birds & seals
Legislation existing within the E.U. but not reinforced by international treaties, the RSPCA briefing mentions, “include the law to prohibit the import of wild-caught birds, implemented in 2005,” when according to E.U. data about 1.7 million wild birds per year were imported alive into member nations, at cost of about five million birds per year killed during capture and transport. The RSPCA credits this E.U. law with having brought about a “dramatic drop in wild-caught birds [brought] into the U.K.
“There is also an import ban on seal products due to welfare concerns on the manner in which these animals are kept and killed,” the RSPCA briefing paper understates. The 2009 European Union ban on imports of seal products, affirmed by the World Trade Organization in 2014, sent the annual Atlantic Canada seal hunt into an apparently terminal decline, after more than 115 years of humanitarian protest.
E.U. wildlife laws
The E.U. has “legislation setting standards on the management of wildlife, covering their hunting, trapping and protection of habitat, and a law on the keeping of animals in zoos,” the RSPCA briefing adds. “The use of driftnets is prohibited due to their impact on marine animals and there are bans on the use of certain traps in wildlife management due to their cruelty.”
These laws are not reinforced by international treaty. To remain in effect in a post-Brexit United Kingdom, each law would have to be re-approved by Parliament, with the possibility that each might be either weakened or strengthened, depending on the will of Parliament.
Hunting Act unaffected
Existing United Kingdom law which would be unaffected by Brexit include the Hunting Act 2004 in England and Wales, and comparable Scottish legislation, national legislation governing “the welfare of wild animals in traveling circuses and the ban on fur farming,” the RSPCA briefing paper mentions.
“The U.K. already has a ban on fur farming and could restrict imports of fur products based on their method of production or trapping,” the RSPCA briefing paper suggests, “although this would be still subject to World Trade Organization approval.”
The World Trade Organization (WTO), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and the International Whaling Commission exist through some of the law-setting treaties to which the United Kingdom belongs.
The WTO has no specific role as regards animals, but as the arbiter of international trade rules, has the authority to either uphold and affirm or hold in violation any national law which might involve international trade.
WTO member nations, including almost every nation engaged in significant international commerce, may reinforce WTO findings by imposing trade sanctions.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species maintains a worldwide endangered species list, called “Appendix I,” and a threatened species list, called “Appendix II.” A third list, “Appendix III,” includes species protected by individual member nations whose governments have requested CITES supervision and regulation of related traffic.
Species listed on either Appendix I or Appendix II are for all practical purposes excluded from legal international commerce.
Inasmuch as many of these species are involved in trade of considerable monetary value, including elephants, rhinos, whales, and nonhuman primates, the debate over whether and how to list or delist species from Appendix I and Appendix II tends to involve international trade politics, diplomacy, and much else beyond just biological determination that a species is rare and declining.
“The E.U. usually votes as a bloc at CITES meetings,” Canadian CITES expert Ronald Orenstein told ANIMALS 24-7. “If the U.K. is not an E.U. member, then it will not form part of the E.U. consensus––but what effect that will have is hard to say. I have already heard, though, that some British nonprofit organizations fear that they will no longer have access to E.U. forums once the U.K. leaves the E.U., unless they choose to open branch offices on the continent.
“A more immediate issue that may arise at the upcoming CITES meeting in South Africa,” Orenstein predicted, “is procedural. The amendment [to the CITES treaty] permitting Regional Economic Integration Organizations such as the E.U. to join CITES as parties was recently ratified after languishing for decades, and this meeting will be the first that the EU. will attend as a party.
Procedure could influence outcomes
“There has been a lot of discussion about how this will affect voting rules,” Orenstein said. “If the E.U. casts a vote, that vote will replace the vote of its member states, and there has been concern as to whether that can happen if all 28 member states are not present in the room, or if it can, will the E.U. vote only count for the votes of the parties that are present.
“The CITES Secretariat has suggested that the E.U. should only vote if all the members of the E.U. agree to let it vote on their behalf,” Orenstein explained. “The question I have been asking,” Orenstein said, “is whether the U.K., though still an EU member, can now agree to this. If it cannot the E.U. may not be able to exercise its vote, and we would go back to the old system of the E.U. countries voting individually but for a common position. At this point we just don’t know what will happen.”
Other international treaty organizations regulate fishing, which amounts to regulating not only which fish may be caught, in what volume, but also to regulating the entire base of the marine ecology. In effect, regulating fishing is also regulating the abundance and survival prospects of sea birds and marine mammals.
Within European waters the chief authority over fishing has long been the European Union, but not without much resistance and resentment from local fishers, who––regardless of home port and nation––tend worldwide to blame others for declining catches.
Fishers favored Brexit
“In Scotland we voted 62% to 38% in favor of staying in Europe,” Animal Concern Scotland chief executive John F. Robins told ANIMALS 24-7. “All voting areas came down in favor of staying in the E.U., but the two places where the vote was very close were an area dominated by the fishing industry and an area with a very high proportion of ‘immigrants’ – from England!
“Scottish fishermen took a fleet of trawlers up the Thames in London to support the Brexit campaign,” Robins recalled. “Fishermen want out of E.U. because the number of trawlers in the fleet has been reduced and the amount of fish they can catch is regulated by E.U. conservation quotas.
Bigger trawlers & frauds
“What the trawler men didn’t mention,” Robins said, “is that although there are fewer trawlers, one modern Scottish trawler can catch more in one cast of its nets than a trawler from the time we joined the E.U. could catch in six months.
“Protesting fishermen forgot to mention that one of the trawlers they took up the Thames had been heavily involved in the ‘Black Fish’ scandal where two sophisticated frauds, carried out by whole fleets of trawlers at Peterhead and Lerwick, landed tens of millions of metric tons of over-quota fish worth hundreds of millions of pounds. Circa 27 skippers were convicted and fines ran into the millions of pounds, but were only a fraction of the illegal profits made.
Fish stocks at greater risk
“I asked that trawlers belonging to convicted skippers be confiscated and either used as fishery protection vessels or stripped of pollutants and given to the military for target practice and sunk to create fish-friendly artificial reefs,” Robins recounted. “This was refused and the ships are still earning big bucks for their multi-millionaire owners.
“Without the E.U. regulating the whole European fishing industry,” Robins predicted, “fish stocks in the North Sea and on the U.K. Atlantic seaboard are now at an even greater risk of being fished to extinction. Do not be surprised if fish stocks collapse and, the marine food chain destroyed, sea bird and marine mammal numbers around the U.K. greatly diminish over the next decade.
Return to the Cod Wars?
“A return to the Cod Wars,” in which gunboats confronted trawlers and each other during the twenty years preceding the United Kingdom joining the E.U., “is also in the cards,” Robins suggested, “although this time it might not just be the U.K. versus Iceland but the U.K. versus various coastal mainland Europe countries, especially Spain.
“Over the last few years,” Robins finished, “various pressure groups including Animal Concern and the Save Our Seals Fund have used the E.U. to force the Scottish government to meet their international legal obligations to protect wildlife and wild habitat. We used the E.U. to force protection of seals and wild Atlantic salmon. The protection offered is very flawed,” Robins acknowledged, “but a lot better than nothing.”