50-year effort by Scottish seal defenders––but Humane Society of the U.S. blasts out media releases claiming credit
DUMBARTON, Scotland––Culminating a half century of effort by the Save Our Seals Fund, and Animal Concern Scotland, led for decades by John Robins of both organizations, the Scottish Parliament on June 17, 2020 ratified a new Animals & Wildlife (Penalties, Protections & Powers) Act.
The update reinforces Scottish humane law in many respects, including repealing a provision of the 2010 Marine Scotland Act which allowed salmon farmers to shoot seals.
But it also left a dangerous loophole. “I have been told today by Marine Scotland that “It is currently likely that seal licensing will cease at the end of this round of licensing at the end of January 2021,” Robins told ANIMALS 24-7 on June 26, 2020.
“This raises cause for grave concern. It has already been noted that the number of seals killed by salmon farming interests has almost doubled in the last few months,” Robins said, “and now that salmon farmers know the date from which they can no longer legally continue to kill seals, it would not surprise me if the seal killing rate increases greatly during the next six months.
HSUS/HSI flaks ignore those who fought for five decades
The 2010 Marine Scotland Act updated the Conservation of Seals Act 1970, which also allowed salmon farmers to shoot seals.
The Save Our Seals Fund, Animal Concern Scotland, and John Robins personally have fought against seal shooting and other cruel and ecologically damaging practices of the salmon farming industry since soon after the first commercial salmon farm in Scotland opened at Loch Ailort, Shire Inverness, in 1969.
But people not integrally involved in the effort would never know who actually led the campaign from the barrage of publicity launched by the Humane Society of the U.S. [HSUS] and the HSUS subsidiary Humane Society International [HSI] even before the final text of the law was so much as posted to the Scottish Parliament web site.
By dawn on June 18, 2020 The Fish Site, serving the fishing and aquaculture industries, had already posted a rewrite of a Humane Society International media release which made no mention of the Save Our Seals Fund, Animal Concern Scotland, and Robins––and the online animal advocacy periodicals Live Kindly and World Animal News, among other media, had done likewise, with scant if any evident effort to verify the particulars.
But “Hairball” missed most of the story
Humane Society of the U.S. president Kitty Block, who headed Humane Society International before her promotion to the HSUS presidency in 2018, waited until June 22, 2020 before personally claiming credit for the campaign victory in a blog post on behalf of HSUS and HSI.
At that, Block and the rest missed most of the story, to which the part about seals was an addenda.
Explained Severin Carrell, Scotland editor for The Guardian, “The bill includes much tougher penalties for [a range of] wildlife crimes, including the persecution of protected birds of prey by poisoning and nest disturbance, following years of pressure from conservationists and the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.”
Scottish courts will now be able, Carrell elaborated, “to jail offenders – including for dogfighting, badger baiting and animal cruelty – for up to five years and impose unlimited fines. Until now, the maximum term for the most serious offences was 12 months and a £20,000 fine.
New law allows rehoming impounded animals
“The bill also drops a time bar on prosecutions,” Carrell noted, replacing legislation that required a prosecution to start within six months of an offense. This limited “the ability of investigators to detect some crimes and to gather evidence,” Carrell wrote.
“Other changes,” Carrell added, “introduce fixed penalty notices [citations] for minor or technical offences, and powers for the Scottish SPCA to rehome animals seized from offenders such as puppy farmers or those involved in dogfighting as quickly as necessary, without a court order. At present they have to wait two years before doing so.”
Emailed Robins to ANIMALS 24-7, “Apart from increasing sentencing powers on existing animal related crimes in Scotland,” the new law “hasn’t changed things very much.
“I’m amazed at why we didn’t achieve much more much earlier,” said Robins in direct response to Block’s blog post, “when I now realize how many different groups and political parties must have been campaigning in secret to gain the huge victories they have all been claiming over the last few days.
“HSI-UK chaired a meeting circa 2005”
“At the weekend I asked a fellow long-in-the-tooth campaigner what part Humane Society International has played in the campaign against salmon farms in Scotland,” Robins recounted. “He reminded me that HSI-UK chaired a meeting back in circa 2005 when we finally managed to get many of the bigger organizations around a table to discuss seal shooting in Scotland. My lasting impression of that meeting was that I took an apple and a notepad and was talking about seal slaughter when most of the others brought Apple Notebooks (one also brought a lawyer) and were talking about seal management.
“In 1986,” Robins remembered, “I was involved in organizing a stunt with the local Greenpeace group with the intention of dropping a huge banner from a Clydeside dock crane just as the Queen visited a salmon farm on the site of the Glasgow Garden Festival. Greenpeace headquarters ordered their local group to desist, making it clear their job was to raise funds.
“After 1980,” Robins wrote, “when the [former] licensed cull of circa 10,000 seals a year was stopped, we couldn’t get any of the big groups to do much about the continued year-round killing of 4,000 to 5,000 seals at wild salmon netting stations and factory salmon farms in Scotland.
Robins took the issue to Scottish Parliament
“Humane Society International may well have been active in the background and might have helped fund excellent campaigner Don Staniford,” of Scottish Seal Watch, Robins allowed.
In the U.S., Robins guessed, HSUS and HSI “may have had a lot to do with getting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to implement the Marine Mammal Protection Act to stop imports of fish from nations which allow marine mammal persecution by fisheries.”
Nonetheless, as ANIMALS 24-7 recounted at the time (see U.S. law to save seals in Scotland), this was a strategy that Robins himself initiated, as Save Our Seals Fund secretary, warning members of the Scottish Parliament on September 27, 2016 that “All exports of fish from Scotland to the U.S. could end if the Scottish Government does not make it illegal for fish farmers and the fishing industry to kill seals.”
Robins’ letter to Parliament detailed how Scottish salmon might be excluded from U.S. markets under new regulations meant to ensure that U.S. fishers and fish farmers would not have to compete against foreigners who do not have to meet environmental standards equivalent to the requirements of the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1973.
U.S. feds acknowledged Save Our Seals Fund pressure
Those new U.S. regulations were published by the U.S. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration in the Congressional Record edition of August 15, 2016. They allowed a five-year grace period for foreign fishers and fish farmers to adjust their production methods to meet the U.S. requirements.
“The new U.S. import regulations become law on January 1, 2017,” Robins explained to the parliamentarians, “but governments have until January 2022 to comply with the new rules.”
In introducing the new trade rules, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service acknowledged having “received correspondence from 21 animal rights and animal welfare organizations and Save Our Seals Fund, respectively,” the only organization mentioned by name, “urging it to take action to ban the importation of Canadian and Scottish aquaculture farmed salmon into the United States due to the intentional killing of seals, asserting such lethal deterrence is subject to the importation ban under the MMPA sections 101(a)(2) and 102(c)(3) for international fisheries.”
Sea Shepherds & Hunt Saboteurs Association helped
Affirmed Robins on June 24, 2020, “The campaign to stop seal shooting by salmon farmers was led by Animal Concern and the Save Our Seals Fund, along with many very much local groups and individual campaigners. From about six or seven years ago,” Robins said, “the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, along with Hunt Sabs, did a great job attacking the seal shooting at wild salmon netting stations on the North East Coast of Scotland.”
Despite the superficial appearance of a great victory, Robins added, “One thing we all have to remember is that seal shooting has not been stopped in Scotland (if it has been stopped––I have asked the Scottish government for a definitive statement on the new situation) for any reason linked to animal welfare. It has only been stopped to protect one of the cruelest and most polluting livestock industries in the world from losing lucrative North American markets.”
Blood & money
Scottish government data acknowledges that 1,917 seals have been shot for “fisheries protection” since the licensing scheme came into effect in 2011, including 31 seals shot during the first three months of 2020.
The actual death toll is believed to be higher, however, due to the combination of underreporting and a lack of independent verification of the killings.
Wrote Carrell of The Guardian, “The Scottish Salmon Producers Organization says seal predation and net breaches lead to 500,000 lost fish a year. However, the risk of a U.S. import ban has unnerved ministers and the producers. The U/.S. imports 25,000 metric tons of premium Scottish salmon per year, accounting for 26% of Scotland’s salmon exports, worth £179 a year,” or $222 million in U.S. dollars.
Acoustic deterrent devices
As well as prohibiting shooting seals to protect salmon farms, the newly passed Animals & Wildlife (Penalties, Protections & Powers) Act includes a pledge that the government will by March 2021 introduce regulation of acoustic deterrent devices meant to stop seal predation on salmon.
Reported Rob Edwards of The Ferret on June 17, 2020, “Noise alarms used by the salmon farming industry to scare away seals could damage the hearing of whales, dolphins and porpoises, according to the Scottish Government’s wildlife agency.
“Documents obtained under freedom of information law show that Scottish Natural Heritage has been pressing fish farms around the coast to reduce and phase out the use of ‘acoustic deterrent devices’ to protect marine mammals. There are fears that fish farms will deploy more of the devices because the shooting of seals is to be outlawed.
“Campaigners claim ADDs are illegal under European environmental law, and should be immediately banned,” Edwards wrote.
“The devil & the deep blue sea”
The Scottish Natural Heritage documents “were obtained by the anti-fish farming campaigner Don Staniford, from Scottish Salmon Watch, Roberts said.
Observed Staniford, “Salmon farmers are caught between the devil of killing seals and the deep blue sea of noisy acoustic deterrent devices which harm cetaceans. Instead of protecting seals and cetaceans, Marine Scotland has been desperately trying to shield the salmon farming industry from the added costs of anti-predator nets.”
“To comply with E.U. and U.S. legislation,” Staniford asserted, “there must be an immediate and unconditional ban on the use of acoustic deterrent devices on salmon farms. If salmon farms cannot avoid harming marine life, they should move out of the way.”
Scottish salmon farmers are in conflict with both grey seals, a rare species of which the resident population of about 124,000 is about 40% of the world population, and harbor seals, the most abundant species worldwide, but in decline in Scottish and British waters, where only about 33,400 remain.
“Salmon farming is an environmental disaster”
Recalled Robins in a February 2017 guest column for ANIMALS 24-7, entitled Salmon farming is an environmental disaster, “About thirty years ago an Animal Concern Director and I attended one of the first annual conferences of the Scottish fish farming industry. It was held in a wee hall in Oban and there were perhaps a hundred people attending.
“A student from University of Stirling gave a presentation. He had been working on a west of Scotland fresh water salmon farm raising smolts for transfer to cages in floating factory fish farms in sea lochs. His job was to monitor predator interactions at the farm. In three months he had filled three freezers with birds such as heron and diving ducks who had paid the ultimate price for trying to steal smolts from the fish farm.
“From that moment on I knew that floating factory fish farms would be a dangerous blot on the Scottish environment. For three decades I have been trying to get politicians to admit that salmon farming is an environmental disaster. Most of them, especially ministers in the Scottish Government, think I’m an eejit and that the sun shines out of every orifice of their mainly Norwegian fish farming friends.”
That is not a battle that the Humane Society of the U.S. and Humane Society International has been fighting all this while.
Even if HSUS/HSI felt entitled to take a bow for some campaign contribution to the new Scottish legislation, a curtsy toward the Save Our Seals Fund, Animal Concern Scotland, and Scottish Seal Watch would only have been good manners.