U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act brought law to save seals in Scottish waters
EDINBURGH, Scotland––Seal-shooting salmon farmers have a £5,000 price on their heads, posted by Animal Concern Scotland on February 1, 2021.
The reward is specifically for information leading to the first successful prosecution under a new Scottish seal protection law, adopted on June 17, 2020 to bring salmon farmers exporting products to the U.S. into compliance with U.S. import regulations.
The U.S. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration on August 15, 2016 ruled that foreign fishers and fish farmers seeking access to U.S. markets must meet environmental standards equivalent to the requirements of the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1973.
Grace period expired
Foreign fishers and fish farmers were given five years to bring their operations into compliance. That grace period has now expired.
The U.S. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration ruling, issued late in the Barack Obama presidential administration, was vulnerable to cancellation by executive order of Donald Trump, U.S. president from January 20, 2017 until January 18, 2021.
Given Trump’s extensive business interests in Scotland and his penchant for cancelling regulatory enforcement, especially regulations adopted under Obama, whether the NOAA rule would ever actually be enforced was considered questionable.
But, preferring not to take chances, the Scottish Parliament on June 17, 2020 ratified a new Animals & Wildlife (Penalties, Protections & Powers) Act.
Repealed issuance of permits to shoot seals
Reinforcing Scottish humane law in many respects, the new legislation included the repeal of a provision of the 2010 Marine Scotland Act which allowed salmon farmers to shoot seals to protect their sea pens.
Summarized Animal Concern Scotland secretary John F. Robins, “To avoid having imports of all UK wild caught and farmed fish banned by the U.S. government, both the Scottish and Westminster Governments have been forced to ban the killing of seals by aquacultural and commercial fishery interests.
“In Scotland this means that salmon farmers can no longer obtain a government license to shoot seals. Although they have had five years to prepare for this,” Robins warned, “not all fish farms have installed proper predator exclusion nets and campaigners are concerned some may continue shooting seals.
“Shooting seals was never monitored”
Animal Concern Scotland posted the £5,000 reward, Robins said, because “Most salmon farms are in remote areas and the shooting of seals was never monitored while it was legal and I am sure it will still not be policed now that it is illegal.
“The only successful [Scottish] prosecution of a salmon farmer for killing seals,” Robins reminded, “was as a result of one of our campaigns. The farmer involved was fined £200 on August 1, 1989 for using a shotgun instead of a rifle to kill seals at his farm on Skye.
“That prosecution,” Robins said, “was only possible because farm workers turned whistle blowers and gave me the evidence needed to gain a conviction.”
“If we obtain a conviction, we will gladly pay the reward”
Continued Robins, “Scottish government ministers and officials have bent over backwards to protect fish farmers and keep their persecution of wildlife and environmental damage out of the public eye. Last year there were at least two incidents where Police Scotland officers abused their power to stop campaigners from legally gaining evidence of the suffering caused to salmon in these floating factory farms.
“Fish farms are in remote areas and with COVID-19 restrictions, there are even fewer people likely to see what is happening around the salmon cages,” Robins pointed out.
“Farm workers and local people may be afraid to speak out for fear of reprisals. They can pass information to us in strict confidence and we will take whatever action we can to secure a prosecution,” Robins promised. “If we obtain a successful conviction, we will gladly pay the £5,000 reward to the person who supplied the information.”
Scottish Salmon Company, owned by Danes, objects
Reinforcing Robins’ concern that the salmon farming industry will only comply with the new Scottish law and U.S. fish import regulation reluctantly, if at all, the Scottish Salmon Company told media that it lost more than 52,000 juvenile Atlantic salmon to a seal attack on December 21, 2020.
The Scottish Salmon Company, ironically, has been owned since 2019 by the Danish company Bakkafrost. Headquartered in Glyfar, the Faroes islands, Bakkafrost is the third largest salmon farming company in the world.
“During the incident,” the British Broadcasting Corporation reported, “seals ripped open nets and killed ‘many’ fish, while others escaped. It occurred at a farm based at Portree on Skye.
The business was due to have new anti-predator netting technology installed by the end of this month.”
“Salmon farms and seals can co-exist”
The Scottish Salmon Producers Organization claimed losses of more than 500,000 farmed salmon to seal attacks during the fiscal year ending in May 2020.
Said Scottish Salmon Producers Organization chief executive Tavish Scott, “Salmon farms and seals can co-exist quite happily in the marine environment.
“Seals can, however, inflict vicious and widespread damage on salmon farms, killing significant numbers of fish in each attack.
“This distressing incident shows that our farmers need access to a range of effective tools and measures to deter seal attacks and protect their livestock.”
Specifically, Scott argued for the repeal of the Animals & Wildlife (Penalties, Protections & Powers) Act ban on the use of “lethal controls.”
HSUS/HSI claimed “victory” they did not win
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.
Despite that history, the Humane Society of the U.S. [HSUS] and the HSUS subsidiary Humane Society International [HSI] unilaterally claimed the June 18, 2020 legislative victory even before the final text of the law was so much as posted to the Scottish Parliament web site.
By dawn that morning 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 either the Save Our Seals Fund, Animal Concern Scotland, or Robins.
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.
Descended from the Scottish Anti-Vivisection Society, founded in 1876, Animal Concern Scotland appeared not to notice the slight.
19 British Columbia salmon farms to be phased out
The U.S. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration regulation requiring foreign fishers and fish farmers to meet Marine Mammal Protection Act standards also applies to fish imports from Canada.
The U.S. imported just over a billion dollars worth of Canadian salmon in 2018, the most recent year for which statistics are available, and is likely to import much less in 2021.
But Marine Mammal Protection Act enforcement would appear to have little to do with the reasons for the anticipated decline.
British Columbia provincial fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan on December 17, 2020 announced that all 19 salmon farms in the Discovery Islands, near the city of Campbell River, are to be phased out of operation by June 2022.
First Nations “feel they should have a say”
The region is at the northern end of the Salish Sea, which extends south to the Budd Inlet at Olympia, the Washington state capital.
Washington state is already phasing out net pen salmon farming.
“First Nations in the area have long said the farms contribute to the collapse of wild Fraser River salmon stocks because sea lice and other pathogens transfer from them to migrating juvenile wild salmon,” reported Karin Larson for CBC-Vancouver.
The seven First Nations opposed to the salmon farms include the Homalco, the Klahoose, the K’ómoks, the Kwaikah, the Tla’amin, the We Wai Kai and the Wei Wai Kum.
“They feel that they should have a say in their territorial waters,” Jordan said, “and I absolutely agree with them.”
Tires may kill more salmon than sea lice
The British Columbia Salmon Farmers Association argued that that phase-out, following the phase-out of salmon farming in Puget Sound, would put the entire salmon farming industry at risk.
Jordan said the 18-month phase-out would allow the salmon farmers to raise the three million salmon currently in the Campbell River net pens to grow to market size.
Jordan announced the Campbell River net pen salmon farming industry shutdown two weeks after University of Washington environmental engineer Edward Kolodziej reported in the peer-reviewed journal Science that a team he headed had identified a chemical pollutant which may have quietly killed even more salmon over the years than sea lice.
6PPD-quinone “roadkills” salmon
Explained Science writer Erik Stokstad, “For decades, something in urban streams has been killing coho salmon in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. Even after Seattle began to restore salmon habitat in the 1990s, up to 90% of the adults migrating up certain streams to spawn would suddenly die after rainstorms. Researchers suspected the killer was washing off nearby roads, but couldn’t identify it.”
Kolodziej and colleague Zhenyu Tian discovered, Stokstad wrote, that “The primary culprit comes from a chemical widely used to protect tires from ozone, a reactive atmospheric gas. The toxicant, called 6PPD-quinone, leaches out of the particles that tires shed onto pavement. Even small doses killed coho salmon in the lab.”
Since about 3.1 billion tires per year are produced worldwide, and have been shedding 6PPD at least since 1983, removing it from the environment to enable severely depressed coho salmon runs to recover may be magnitudes of order more difficult than was removing the pesticide DDT to help endangered hawks and eagles to recover.
Severely restricting the use of DDT, however, a multi-year process begun by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1972, had almost immediately visible positive effects for the many endangered bird species, most of which long since rebounded to historical abundance.