Aug 042017

Isie Caie (left) from Cove In Bloom.

By Duncan Harley.

Isabella Catto Caie was well known in Cove and well known in Aberdeen. In the days when catches were bountiful, she could be seen hawking her wares at The Green. Later, as landings of fish at Cove declined, she took to buying from middlemen at the Market in Aberdeen before taking up her usual stance on the cobbles.

She had her regulars and, in the early days at least, could be easily spotted walking the six miles into Aberdeen, carrying a creel loaded with fish on her back to sell. Latterly, in old age, she took the bus to town.

According to legend, it might take two men to lift the heavy creel laden with fish on to her back before she set out on her journey into the city centre.

Latterly, folklore led to some late-fame and alongside a few pictures in the press she featured, at least the once, in a Press and Journal Calendar celebrating the heritage of the North-east.

Today, on a wind swept winters day, we had come to find her grave.

We parked just outside the church at Nigg and, as horizontal rain arrived to welcome us, threw on jackets and set off on foot around the graveyard. We fully expected a fruitless hunt; we had after all just trudged round St Fittick’s kirkyard following a misdirection. But, by now, Albertino was firmly in search-mode and nothing, not even a freezing February storm, was going to get in his way.

Within minutes a cry of “It’s over here Duncan” rang out and I made off in the direction of the shout.

There, arm outstretched and touching the gravestone of Isie Caie was a slightly distraught Albertino.

“How do you feel?” I asked.

“Emotional” came the reply.

“I feel very emotional now that we are here, I feel a connection.”

Brazilian Sculptor Albertino Costa had of course already established a connection with the lady known locally as Isie Caie.

Having lived and worked in Aberdeen for over 20 years, he had been commissioned by community group Cove in Bloom to design and create a sculpture commemorating ‘the spirit of the fishwife’.

Rather than simply create a romanticised studio based life sculpture of Cove’s most famous fishwife, Albertino’s approach was much more radical – he would work in public in the open air alongside the very harbour where the fishwife’s journey began.

Permission to site the project on the harbour-front was readily granted by land-owner Pralhad Kolhe and in summer 2016 work began on the quayside where a large block of white Italian marble began to slowly morph into a vibrant piece of community led sculpture.

From the very beginning visitors to Cove Harbour took an interest.

“People cannot resist watching someone doing something creative” says Albertino,

“the work is open for everyone to come and contribute and with no pre-conceived idea of the final form, it is easy to get people involved.”

From the very start says Albertino:

“creating the work live at Cove Bay gave the people a sense of ownership and a sense of deep connection both with each other and of course with the past.”

Wendy Suttar of Cove in Bloom agrees.

“We had heard about Albertino’s previous work and although when we started speaking to him we hadn’t got a rigid idea of what we wanted; we knew however that he was the artist we wanted and we immediately started the ongoing process of fundraising the £20,000 needed to finance the project.”

As the work progressed, the conversations with spectators gave Albertino a breadth of knowledge which he has embodied in the various elements of the sculpture.

The creel, the net, the wild sea and the harvest of the sea are vividly portrayed along with, of course, the spirit of Isie herself.

Isie Caie died in May 1966 age 86.

Her grand-daughter, Chirsty MacSween records that “she sold at the Green to the end” and that she “had a reputation for always having a smile on her face, a happy woman.”

The Cove sculpture remains a work- in-progress and there is still time to make a hands-on contribution to the final form of ‘The Spirit of the Fishwife.”

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Nov 262015

Alex Grahame Wins Cullen Skink championshipfeatWith thanks to Phil Moar, Account Manager, Citrus:Mix.

A north-east chef and restaurant owner’s Cullen Skink with a twist has been crowned as the best in the world.

Alex Grahame, co-owner of Hornblower’s seafood restaurant and takeaway in Gourdon, scooped the title after impressing judges with his own unique take on the traditional dish at yesterday’s (Sunday, November 22) Cullen Skink World Championships at the Cullen Bay Hotel.

Coming out on top in a five-way cook-off, Alex’s recipe, entitled ‘The Bon Accord’, was praised for its texture, flavour, colour and appearance with a unique French twist – a dash of Noilly Prat – helping convince judges it was a winner.

Alex’s recipe is influenced by his own French cooking training and his wife Ruth’s Aberdonian heritage, with the addition of the Noilly Prat paying homage to the area of France that the pair were married in.

The popular competition is in its second year and is organised by the Cullen Bay Hotel and the Cullen Voluntary Tourist Initiative. A traditional Cullen Skink competition was also held on the day.

Alex Grahame said:

“To have my take on Cullen Skink recognised in this way is a fantastic feeling and I’m thrilled to have been crowned as a world champion; I never once imagined when I started cooking that I’d be able to say something like that!

“The competition itself was an intense, full-on hour as there is so much to do in such a tight time frame. The other five versions of Cullen Skink looked fantastic, with some unique recipes being used so I’m delighted to have come out top.

“Cullen Skink is an important dish here in Scotland and it is loved by many throughout the world so there is always pressure when cooking it. We’ve had it on the menu at Hornblower’s for some time now, so I’ve had plenty practice; it’s always been a favourite with our loyal customer base.

“From a personal point of view, the competition itself was a fantastic event and I can’t stress enough just how great it has been to be involved with. This sort of competition is exactly what the food scene here in the north-east needs and it has been a perfect way of shining the spotlight on one of the nation’s most-loved and revered dishes.”

For more information on Hornblower’s seafood restaurant and takeaway, please visit its dedicated social media channels or

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Nov 162015

Alex Grahame3With thanks to Phil Moar, Account Manager, Citrus Mix.

A north-east chef and restaurant owner will battle it out this month to have his Cullen Skink crowned as the best in the world.

Alex Grahame, co-owner of Hornblower’s seafood restaurant and takeaway in Gourdon, has been shortlisted for the final of the Cullen Skink World Championships which will take place at the Cullen Bay Hotel on Sunday, November 22.

A finalist in the Cullen Skink with a twist competition, Alex will attempt to wow judges using his own unique recipe at the event organised by the Cullen Bay Hotel and the Cullen Voluntary Tourist Initiative.

Entitled ‘The Bon Accord’, Alex’s recipe is influenced by his French cooking training and is an ode to his wife Ruth’s Aberdonian heritage. His recipe also includes a unique, French twist, which pays homage to the area of France that the pair were married in.

Six finalists will take part in the live cook-off with dishes of the Scottish soup judged on texture, flavour, colour and appearance. A traditional Cullen Skink competition will also be held at the event.

Cullen Skink is one of Scotland’s most traditional starter dishes and is a thick, creamy soup regularly made with smoked haddock, potatoes and onions. As the name suggests, its origins are located in the north-east town of Cullen but its popularity has grown in recent years and is currently enjoyed in countries all across the world.

Alex Grahame, co-owner of Hornblower’s seafood restaurant and takeaway, said:

“Being a seafood restaurant, Cullen Skink has made regular appearances on the Hornblower’s menu for a number of years now and I’m delighted to have made the final six for the upcoming World Championship cook-off.

“Cullen Skink is one of Scotland’s signature dishes and it is important to do it justice every time it is made. Every dish that we serve at Hornblower’s is done so with love, care and attention to detail and our Cullen Skink is no different.

“My recipe follows aspects of the traditional Cullen Skink recipe but I’ve got a few things up my sleeve that will hopefully help it to stand out and make it a bit different to the norm, including haddock smoked in the traditional way here in Gourdon. Competitions like these are great for shining the spotlight on the north-east’s burgeoning food and drinks industry and I’m looking forward representing Hornblower’s at what is shaping up to be a fantastic event.”

Hornblower’s customers will be able to taste Alex’s take on Cullen Skink in the run-up to the final cook-off itself, with free tasters now available from its Gourdon premises.

More information on Hornblower’s

Hornblower’s in Gourdon, which specialises in locally-sourced seasonal food with an emphasis on seafood, was opened in 2010 by Alex and Ruth Grahame.

Renowned for its fresh produce, the restaurant and takeaway has built up a reputation for showcasing the best that Scotland has to offer from both sea and field. Committed to 100% Scottish sourcing for all of its fish and meat, the restaurant receives daily fresh deliveries of fish from either Gourdon or Peterhead harbour.

It has also received critical acclaim, most recently scooping the 2015 Best Chippy Chips in Scotland award from the National Potato Council. It was also awarded with a VisitScotland Thistle Award for best informal dining experience in the north-east and Tayside in 2014.

The restaurant has also announced plans to take over the lease for the site of the former Jimmy Chungs and TC Fish restaurant at Aberdeen Beach.

The proposal, which has recently achieved planning permission, includes a two-storey 16,000 sq ft restaurant facing the sea front with terraces on the first floor and a heated outdoor sitting area on the ground floor. A 650 sq ft takeaway, a 2,500 sq ft ice cream parlour along with two other restaurants, including The Pier Bistro is also part of the plans.

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Dec 192014
Salmon killed in coastal nets

Salmon killed in coastal nets

With thanks to Suzanne Kelly.

The Salmon and Trout Association (Scotland) (S&TA(S)), in conjunction with leading angling guide and consultant Ian Gordon, has today launched an online petition aimed at preventing any killing of wild salmon in Scotland before 1st July for the next five years. This follows two years of poor salmon runs and reflects an increasing appreciation that decisive action is required to help arrest the decline.

In 2013 6,563 salmon were killed before 1st July – of which over two thirds were taken by nets.

The public petition, which is hosted on the Scottish Parliament’s website, also calls for an end to all coastal salmon netting, given that it is totally indiscriminate and incapable of distinguishing between river stocks which are healthy and those that are severely depleted. The cessation of coastal netting would enable the Scottish Government to honour its international conservation obligations, particularly under the NASCO treaty.

Hughie Campbell Adamson, Chairman of S&TA(S), commented:

“It is evident that the Scottish rod catch of salmon in 2014 was the lowest in over 60 years and just 50% of the ten year average. Decisive action is now needed to reduce significantly the number killed, particularly the most vulnerable stocks – those that arrive back on our coasts between January and June. Our proposals are for a five year period from 2016 in order to give any recovery in salmon numbers the best possible chance of success”.

Mr Campbell Adamson added:

“Whilst we welcome Scottish Government’s recent announcement that it will consult imminently on the introduction from 2016 of a ban on the killing of wild salmon except under licence in order to ensure that ‘any killing of salmon is sustainable’, we are adamant that this should be underwritten by a firm presumption that no licences whatsoever should be issued for any exploitation before July”.

Ian Gordon, an authority on salmon fishing in Scotland, commented:

“A year ago I promoted my own online petition, calling for Scottish Ministers to stop the resumption of net fishing in the early spring after a 14 year voluntary cessation. This attracted over 20,000 signatures and I am pleased to note that Scottish Government has now introduced a conservation measure from the 2015 season banning any killing of salmon before 1st April.

“We now need to go much further and I hope that our new petition can build on this momentum so that the Scottish Parliament gives due priority to greater protection to our wild salmon, until such time as stocks of one of Scotland’s most iconic species show a marked recovery”.

The petition can be accessed through –

The full text of the petition reads:

“Ian Gordon and the Salmon and Trout Association (Scotland) call upon the Scottish Parliament:

(i) in the interests of salmon conservation, and on a precautionary basis, to request Scottish Ministers to use their powers immediately under the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 2003 Act to ensure that no Atlantic salmon are killed in Scotland for a period of five years from 2016 – by either nets or rods – before 1st July; and

(ii) in the case of fishing for salmon by coastal netting, to take such steps as are necessary to bring to an end the exploitation of wild salmon by Mixed Stock Fisheries at any time of year, in line with Scotland’s international commitments and obligations.”

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Nov 142014

Christian Allard MSP for North East Scotland and Richard Lochhead MSP Cabinet Secretary for Rural affairs and EnvironmentWith thanks to Gavin Mowat and Paul Robertson.

SNP MSP Christian Allard has criticised the Westminster government for acting against the interests of the Scottish fishing industry.

Just days after Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) President Ross Dougal saidWe [the SFF] are fully supportive of the Scottish fishing minister taking the lead in fisheries negotiations where appropriate”, the UK Government sent an unelected peer to represent Scottish fishermen at EU talks.

Mr Allard, who attended the SFF’s annual dinner in Edinburgh where Mr Dougal made his comments, said the decision to draft Rupert Charles Ponsonby, 7th Baron de Mauley into the negotiations is wholly inappropriate and further proof that Westminster is failing to prioritise the interests of the Scottish fishing industry.

The SFF have been fully involved in the Smith Commission process and have expressed a desire to see the Scottish minister take a lead in EU fishing negotiations, yet the actions of Westminster have quite clearly ignored this appeal.

Commenting, North East MSP, Christian Allard said:

“This is yet another brazen example of Westminster showing a blatant disregard for the will of the Scottish fishing industry.

“As one of the longest serving ministers in Europe, Richard Lochhead is best placed to negotiate on behalf of the Scottish fishing industry – something which the Scottish fishing industry understands.

“Yet the Westminster government has failed to grasp this fact and continues to work against the interests of Scottish fishing.

“How dare the UK government use every opportunity to brand EU institutions undemocratic when they have enlisted a hereditary peer to represent the Scottish fishing industry? This is a wholly inappropriate decision in what are incredibly important negotiations for Scottish fishing.”

The Scottish Government’s Fisheries Minister Richard Lochhead, who has been in post for 7 years, put in the request to the UK Government to speak in the talks. However, Conservative Lord deMauley was instead chosen to represent the UK in the discussions.

Matters being discussed at this week’s EU Council included the landing obligation, or ‘discards ban’, which fishing industry leaders have warned could be disastrous for Scottish fishing if key concessions are not won.

Commenting from Brussels, Mr Lochhead – who is Europe’s longest serving Fishing Minister – said:

“Today we found ourselves in the crazy position of un-elected Lord Rupert Ponsonby, 7th Baron de Mauley, representing the UK Government and making the briefest of interventions – after being passed a note by an official – on a crucial discussion on the issue of fish discards – an issue the Scots industry tell me is one of the most important they face.”

Banff & Buchan MP Dr Eilidh Whiteford, whose constituency hosts Europe’s largest fishing port, added her voice to the condemnation:

“This week’s Council meeting addressed issues which largely impact the Scottish industry yet an unelected Lord with next to no experience of fishing was chosen by Westminster to speak on the industry’s behalf. With the discards ban looming large on the horizon, we need the strongest voice for our fishermen. Instead, Scotland’s interests were completely frozen out of these critical talks.”

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[Aberdeen Voice accepts and welcomes contributions from all sides/angles pertaining to any issue. Views and opinions expressed in any article are entirely those of the writer/contributor, and inclusion in our publication does not constitute support or endorsement of these by Aberdeen Voice as an organisation or any of its team members.]

Aug 222014

By Suzanne Kelly.

salmon box2Salmon fishing and salmon farms are under increasing pressure to supply Scottish salmon to the world.  This is not without a price to wildlife.
The salmon in farms are prone to disease, are painfully attacked by flesh-eating sea lice, and live their lives in insufferably small, crowded pens as compared to the space and freedom the species would normally enjoy.

Pollution from salmon farms and escapee salmon are causing environmental disruption. Salmon nets seem to be growing in scale and quantity year on year.

Salmon netting is on the increase; anglers report that very few animals are making their way to the rivers.

Against this backdrop, to protect the financial interests of the businesses engaged in salmon production, the government allows seal shooting when it knows that seal numbers are in decline, that non-lethal methods of protecting salmon in nets exist, and that seals that have been shot or found dead contain little salmon in their digestive tracts.  Is this a case of finance overriding ethics and environment?

Suzanne Kelly went out with George Pullar and his crew to empty USAN’s salmon nets and get Pullar’s perspective on his operations, seal culling and fish stocks. Following publication of the resulting article, Kelly talked to Sea Shepherd, Animal Concern Advice Line, Gardenstown landowner Marc Ellington, animal activists, and hunt saboteurs.

Their tales are quite at odds with many of Usan’s claims.

Some of the arguments offered by various proponents of salmon netting – and seal shooting in North East Scotland are:

“There are plenty of fish in the sea”

“Plenty of salmon for anglers and netters alike”  

“Seals attack nets and will be shot if they persist”

“Capping the number of seals that can be shot is ‘pointless’”

“The seal population has gone up 1000% in the last ten years”

“Netting is Scottish heritage”

  Unfortunately all of these arguments are either misleading or simply not true.


Scotland is exporting more and more salmon; international demand is up (barring the current Russian ban on western food imports linked to the crisis in the Ukraine). The demand is being met by both salmon farms and by increased netting activities. Netting salmon is a ‘heritable right’ which can be bought or sold.

When Usan acquired rights to operate in the Ythan estuary, this marked an increase in its operations. Usan currently has 15 vast nets in the coast south of Montrose which are emptied twice a day. Leaders funnel the salmon, other fish and jellyfish into the inescapable net traps.

Local Heroes and Villains:

June 2012 – seals are being shot in the small northerly coastal towns of Crovie and Gardenstown. Marc Ellington is the landowner; he has expressly forbidden any shooting from his land. It is understood that people involved in shooting seals also did so on RSPB owned land, and from property owned by the crown estate. (from emails between myself and John Robins  July 2012 re. Gardenstown seal shootings)

According to those in the area 16 seals were shot, 14 were pregnant. An area expert advised that NONE had traces of salmon in their digestive tracts.  My source also advised:

“The shooting seems to have taken place by these people from Montrose who have the salmon rights, but was done on land owned by the RSPB – who are said to be livid.” (IBID)”

Then a seal was shot in front of tourists in Gardenstown, a small, peaceful coastal village. They cancelled their holiday rental and promptly left. The police seemed rather uninterested in pursuing the matter. The Laird of Gardenstown and Crovie, Marc Ellington, and others tried without success to get the police to enforce the ban on shooting in the area.

Again, Ellington owns the land, and has forbidden any shooting there. Firing  a gun while on a boat is clearly dangerous (how many boats are safely stationary to allow someone to aim a gun?) and illegal. No seals should have been shot in these areas – and yet according to witnesses, seal carcasses washed ashore.

These seals had been shot.

Gardenstown and Crovie residents contacted Sea Shepherd, who arrived on the scene to stop any further seals from being shot. Despite George Pullar’s claims as to how his people behave, video footage taken at the time clearly shows Usan operatives threatening Sea Shepherd personnel. With no permission to shoot in the area – why did Usan have rifles there in the first place?

I visited the area with Marc Ellington; the locals I spoke with wanted to ensure no seals were shot; they wanted tourists to come and enjoy the area’s wildlife, rent holiday homes and patronise the local shops.

The idea of men with rifles killing seals will put tourists off and will hurt these communities’ incomes. Most people I spoke with in the area were very pleased to have Sea Shepherd present; one person has been keeping a log of when Usan personnel are operating in the area and what they’ve been doing.

The heritage argument:

Salmon netting in Scotland has been going for centuries; Pullar is right to claim it is a heritage activity. But that activity has dramatically changed over time.

Pretending that the man who stood on the shore with his nets and sold his catch to his neighbours is the same as the crew with 15 huge nets emptied twice a day, selling fish internationally is disingenuous.

Bullfighting of course is also a ‘heritage activity’ – it is also arguably a cruel, unnecessary unequal competition which has no place in a compassionate, enlightened world. Arguably bullfighting is to beef production what traditional small-scale netting is to Usan.

Salmon Numbers Game:

For 2012, the Scottish Government reported:

“The total reported rod catch (retained and released) of wild salmon for 2012 is 86,013. It is the tenth highest rod catch on record and is 95 per cent of the previous five-year average.  The proportion of the rod catch accounted for by catch and release is the highest recorded. In 2012, 91% of rod caught spring salmon was released, as was 74% of the annual rod catch.”

The above paragraph gives no indication of how long the records cover making this the tenth highest rod catch, making the statement somewhat weak.

The government does however say that 91% of the rod caught spring salmon was released. However, not many fish are making it to the rivers these days. Increased netting just happens to coincide with the dramatic drop. If Marine Scotland and the Scottish government are concerned and are investigating, they are keeping quiet about it.

In 2013 the picture was already changing. As per records and the Salmon and Trout Association:

“The number of salmon killed in nets in 2013 was 50% higher than in 2012 according to the official Scottish Government figures (published in April 2014). The 2013 summer drought caused very low flows in most rivers and thus salmon were simply unable to access their rivers of origin, forcing them to run the gauntlet of coastal nets for weeks on end. There are no quotas set for wild salmon and consequently there is no mechanism to limit catches – whatever the strength or weakness of local populations.

“The 2013 net catch of 24,311 salmon compares with 16,230 in 2012 and 19,818 in 2011. In contrast the rod catch dropped to 66,387 in 2013 (the lowest figure since 2003) from 86,013 in 2012. 80% of the 2013 rod catch were released by anglers back into the water.”

Andrew Graham-Stewart, Director of the Salmon and Trout Association (Scotland) (S&TA(S)), commented:

“The figures for 2013 expose the absurdity of recent statements by Scottish Ministers that salmon netting in Scotland is declining.

“In the last three years dormant netting stations have re-opened and netting effort has increased substantially. The quantum leap in the netting catch in 2013 shows once again that salmon conservation is simply absent from Scottish Government’s agenda. On the contrary it is permitting much greater levels of indiscriminate killing by nets of an iconic species that is already under considerable pressure.”

When I was with Pullar, at least 50 salmon, ranging greatly in sizes were taken and packed into over 4 large plastic crates. He was quite clear that seals which ‘persistently’ go after ‘his’ fish will be shot. He tells me there are plenty of fish.

But the world’s demand for Wild Scottish Salmon is eating into the finite supply more voraciously than any indigenous wildlife ever could.

Salmon nets

one of the type of nets used by USAN; there are bars to discourage seals from entering, but it is a vast net nonetheless

Plenty of fish? Further afield, the anglers tell a different story. Angling has a long history too; and is an essential contributor to rural Scottish economies in the Speyside area for instance.

Anglers catch fish, and return them to the rivers. However,  the numbers of salmon anglers see have dramatically, measurably crashed for the anglers, if not for the Pullars.

One keen angler has spoken of his concern for the fish and the rural economy. He advises that several anglers he knows have spent up to 3 weeks seeking salmon in the rivers and coming up completely empty-handed.  He expressed concern for the local businesses which are dependent on anglers spending time on the rivers and being successful in their pursuit of their hobby.


Not just a Scottish Issue:

The Salmon and Trout Association are very worried about stocks; they have called the current runs of salmon ‘the worst in living memory’. In a recent article on their website, they wrote:

“The Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (Cefas) Annual Assessment of Salmon Stocks and Fisheries in England and Wales in 2013 estimates that only 19 of the principal 64 salmon rivers in England and Wales reached their conservation targets; compared to 42 in 2011. This is the equal lowest number since conservation targets were introduced in 1993. Overall, the number of salmon estimated to be returning to England and Wales in the last two years was amongst the lowest on record.

The report does not expect a significant improvement in stock levels. Since the 1970s there has been a 40% decline in the number of salmon returning to our rivers each year, despite the much-publicised return of salmon to previously polluted rivers such as the Tyne and Mersey.”  

Further details of their recommendations can be found here.

No Limits:

There  is absolutely no limit to the number of salmon the netters can take, despite evidence that stocks are going down, and the pleas of those involved in conservation and angling.

My contact advises that the big fish Pullar has taken are an important part of the  migration salmon make from sea to river; ‘they know what to do and where to go’. It seems possible that the increased fishing now permitted is going to disrupt important migrations, and I wonder whether the entire population could crash. Because it’s not only Pullar that is killing sea life.

Pollution is doing more to our oceans than Marine Scotland seems to be interested in.  More marine life than ever which is found dead have ingested plastic waste.

You don’t have to be a scientist to know that the 50 fish Pullar took when with me are never going to return to the rivers; they are not going to spawn. Pullar says sometimes he hardly gets any salmon. Some people (who would catch a fish and return it to the water) are getting none after weeks of effort.

Seal’s Fate Sealed:

Seals are being shot as  part and parcel of this relatively new fish farming and industrial scale netting sector. Seals are shot apparently to protect the interests of those involved in netting wild salmon, and those who operate salmon farms.  The Scottish government via Marine Scotland hands out licenses for those involved in the salmon industry (farms and netting) to destroy common and grey seals (common seals are increasingly uncommon – more on that shortly). According to an article in the Guardian by Rob Edwards from April of last year, 892 seals were reported to the government as having been shot ; half by those involved in fish farming and the other half by netsmen such as Usan.

No one is certain how many seals are actually being shot. Marine Scotland may dole out quotas for seal hunting to the industry’s players, but it seems no official verification or record keeping is done. Animal welfare groups point out that seal carcasses have been found deliberately hidden after shooting in locations such as Elephant Rock (which I passed with the Pullars).

However, experts have found that many seals that were killed (of the carcasses found) had absolutely no salmon in their systems.

An upsetting anecdote related to me of a marksman going up to a seal on a crowded public beach and shooting it in front of children has not helped the reputation of the salmon industry, nor has a video of the would-be seal shooters caught in the act of trying to intimidate Sea Shepherd operatives in Gardenstown.

Overall, our seal population is shrinking, and Scotland is home to a fair portion of some of the world’s species of seals. These animals are persecuted throughout the Scottish Highlands and Islands; a man from Shetland was fined for clubbing 21 baby seals to death in 2009. The issues are summarised by Marine Concern in an open letter to Alex Salmond.

The persecution of seals has the government’s seal of approval. The website showing the details of the 2013 ‘returns’ states as facts ‘seals are only shot as a last resort’. It is interesting to consider how the government can state this as fact of the  52 licences it granted in 2013 to kill:

“The maximum number of seals involved is 774 grey and 265 common. Table 2 below provides details. This maximum represents less than 0.7% of the grey seal population of 100,000 and slightly over 1% of the minimum common seal population of 20,500.” (IBID)

The reasons for killing seals include “Protection of Health and Welfare” and “Prevention of Serious Damage”.

The government seems to take no account of the other pressures on seal populations from pollutants, plastics, and hunters. On the one hand killing seals is only ‘a last resort’ according to the government, and yet ‘prevention of serious damage’ is a justification for killing. What precisely is in danger of being damaged? Nets? Fish?

he also advises that while he will shoot ‘persistent’ seals

The government is not clear on its website what it means by ‘last resort’.

Would moving the nets, or avoiding seal area to avoid this mysterious damage not be a first means of avoiding destroying a seal?

Despite mounting evidence that seal populations are crashing seals are shot under license – but there does not seem to be requirements about detailed reporting of such culls .

Reporting is up to those involved in the shooting, and details don’t seem to be being collected. By contrast, an Aberdeen city deer cull required those who shot the deer to make and submit written notes of location, time and date of shooting, approximate age and weight of animal destroyed, its sex and condition, etc.

George Pullar was adamant that the salmon in his nets are his; he also advises that while he will shoot ‘persistent’ seals, he is working with experts at ways to keep the salmon from the nets. Methods include sonic deterrents and barrier bars on the cages. Pullar was issued licences to kill over 100 seals; he then told the press he would bow to public pressure and not kill. Except when necessary.

The seals didn’t get the memo that they can’t eat other wildlife – but again experts report that the seals found shot do not have  much if any salmon in their guts. Seals’ nature tends to be to pursue less difficult prey.

I can’t help but think a business with several different related companies which made a five figure sum last year,  might want to improve its public persona by  ceasing any and all seal culling, donating money to wildlife charities, advertising its salmon as being non-lethal to  seals, increase its prices to cover such expenses and voluntarily lower the number of salmon it takes  I wish they would is my conclusion.

Money on all sides:

The Pullars have a heritable right to earn their living from fishing. However, wildlife tourists are already being put off visting areas.  As to angling; many rural communities depend on it.

Ian Gordon, leading salmon consultant and gillie, said:

“It is fundamentally inequitable that Scotland’s coastal netting stations, which employ no more than 50, mainly part-time, individuals, are permitted to kill as many salmon as they are able to, before the fish reach our rivers. Wild salmon are a dwindling resource and the over-riding priority must now be to protect the 2,000 plus jobs of gillies and others on our rivers that depend upon a thriving angling industry to be viable.

“Angling, with the great majority of salmon caught released safely back into the river, is essentially sustainable but, if our rivers do not hold sufficient salmon stocks, anglers will simply vote with their feet – thus jeopardising in-river employment and the economies of local communities. In these circumstances Scotland can simply no longer afford to allow unrestricted coastal netting”

Wildlife tourism is big business here.  According to a 2010 Government paper:

“The report found that wildlife tourism annually brings in a net economic impact of £65 million to Scotland’s economy and creates the equivalent of 2,760 full time jobs.

The report also found that 1.12 million trips were made every year to or within Scotland with the main aim of viewing wildlife.”

Summing up:

There seems to be clear evidence that too many wild salmon simply are not making it back to the rivers to spawn. Numbers are down; anglers are seeing the worst results they can remember. At the same time, additional netting rights by the Ythan were acquired by Usan subsidiary (aka the Scottish Wild Salmon Company) in March.

Some 500 seals are  in that estuary; it is a well-known, popular tourist destination.  It is hard to not see a link between these two facts.

What is hard to see is how we have skirted around the issue of Marine Protection areas for over 10 years (I was involved in some meetings meant to establish marine conservation areas years ago – and virtually nothing was accomplished; seals and birds were left out of the protection equation).

What is harder to understand is what Scottish Natural Heritage is actually for, since it doesn’t seem interesting in protecting Scotland’s natural heritage.

You could be forgiven for thinking…..

….. that seals and salmon are only pests and pound signs respectively to those charged with protecting our natural heritage for the future.

The seals are scapegoats for dwindling salmon numbers and are being shot for it. The desire to supply a finite resource to the entire world would certainly seem to be the reason for salmon decline, but we are hardly going to see an SNH censure or curtail in any way the netters; not when there is money to be made and political influence at work.

You won’t find such an admission in any SNH literature, however many euphemisms the SNH boffins use for killing animals that are perceived (wrongly in this case) to be taking salmon.

They may want to be taken seriously as scientists, but I am no longer able to see the SNH as anything but a collective of degree-holding experts for hire who inevitably favour money over the environment and wildlife. They know that shot seals have been examined and found to have no trace of salmon in their systems (seals prefer easier prey). But that does not stop the SNH calling the public’s desire to stop the culling ‘emotive’:

1.1 An overview of species conflicts in Scotland

Across Scotland, there are a number of terrestrial wildlife species that bring people into conflict. Many of the conflicts in Scotland arise from the impact of protected species on people’s livelihood or well-being. Species include many predators and scavengers such as raptors, ravens, seals, piscivorous birds, gulls, badgers and pine martens, or herbivores such as geese and deer.

“Predators may have an ecological or economic impact on prey numbers ..or even an emotional impact on observers (Burnett, 2012; MacPhee, 2012).

“1 In a number of cases, the impact of predation may be perceived rather than actual (Butler et. al., 2011). It is often the case that the true extent of the impact is unknown due to a lack of quantitative ecological or economic data (Harris et. al., 2008) which can be extremely hard to gather without expensive research.

“In some situations in which the impact is perceived to be damaging, people may breach wildlife protection laws, thus bringing them directly into conflict with statutory agencies and conservation organisations (Etheridge et. al., 1997; RSPB, 2011). Conflicts also occur where stakeholders disagree over the management of wildlife that is not necessarily protected.

“For example, stakeholders with sporting interests tend to manage deer populations with the aim of maintaining large populations. …Similarly, conflicts may arise due to growing public concern, on emotional, ethical, welfare or animal rights grounds, about the use of lethal methods of wildlife management (Animal Aid, 2012a; Barr et. al., 2002; Dandy et. al., 2011; Massei et. al., 2010).

“Such management may be carried out for legitimate exploitation (e.g. game species), or for other purposes such as population control (e.g. foxes), the removal of species that transmit diseases (e.g. badgers), or the removal of non-native species such as North American grey squirrels, or species outside their native range, such as hedgehogs in the Western Isles of Scotland (Animal Aid, 2012c; Barr et. al., 2002; Warwick et. al., 2006; Webb and Raffaelli, 2008). 

“One area of potential future conflict arises from the growth of the ecotourism and wildlife watching sectors of Scotland’s tourism industry. Scotland offers good opportunities for watching a variety of wildlife, including birds, marine mammals and deer, with associated local economic benefits (Dickie et. al., 2006; Parsons et. al., 2003; Putman, 2012a). 

“However, wildlife tourism requires visible, predictable and, in some cases, large wildlife populations which may cause conflicts with other sectors.

“For example, marine mammal tourism promotes the conservation of seals but may cause conflict with salmon interests (Butler et. al., 2008), large deer herds or geese flocks may be impressive to visitors but can have negative impacts on conservation interests or local livelihoods (DCS, 2009; Rayment et. al., 1998), and eagles, ospreys and other raptors may attract visitors (Dickie et. al., 2006) but have perceived or real impacts on agricultural and sporting interests.”

– Building an evidence base for managing species conflicts in Scotland – a Commissioned Report (no 611) – SNH

The above requires more comment than can be addressed at the moment. Some of the issues arising include questions such as: Who exactly is commissioning reports from what should be a purely scientific, rational, unbiased agency set up to protect wildlife? Who is deciding that the objections the public has to culling are merely ‘emotional’?  The SNH seems to fund various lobbying groups as well.  The Lowland Deer Management Group seems to be involved in promoting deer culling for instance; it is funded by the SNH and by extension by the taxpayer.

Who is deciding what numbers of wildlife are ‘acceptable’, and what are their affiliations?  Somehow wildlife managed to survive in Scotland before the SNH. An idealist might suppose the valid purpose of the SNH would be to protect our habitats and animals from pollution, urban sprawl, poaching and excessive overfishing. But apparently these are not goals on the SNH agenda.

The SNH has of course famously been behind the drive to limit deer to ridiculously small numbers in Scotland.

A hill in Aberdeen, once a meadow (albeit grown on a refuse dump) supported a herd of some 30 deer, give or take, for over 70 years.  Then the SNH and Forestry Commission moved in with a tree growing scheme:  these unbiased, scientific experts are planting trees on a hill with a poor soil matrix, overlooking the north sea (salt spray will be an issue) and where extremely strong winds are likely to topple any trees that are established.

To do this? The meadow and its deer population were virtully wiped out. The experts now claim that 4 to 6 deer is all the hill can support.  This flies in the face of the quantifiable past. This is also patently ridiculous: how is such a gene pool to be healthy?

How in fact can the deer continue at such a low population? Obviously, it cannot. The fact is money has changed hands in order to implement the tree scheme: money has apparently won the day over living creatures and biodiversity. But then again, the experts will say that the public is unable to understand and objectors will be written off as merely being ‘emotive’. 

John Robins of Animal Concern said:

 “There is an extreme pro-culling mentality within SNH. Whether they call it culling or wildlife management the Scottish Government, through SNH, is responsible for the killing, often largely uncontrolled killing, of hundreds of thousands of animals and birds every year. These animals include all breeds of deer and seals, grey squirrels and over twenty species of birds.

“In the past SNH have culled hedgehogs and they have supported culling of wild wallabies on an island in Loch Lomond. They allow gamekeepers to “manage” native species like stoats, weasels and just about anything which might eat the eggs of non-native pheasants.

“SNH and their political masters need to step back from mass killing and look at other ways of controlling wildlife if, indeed any sort of human interference is needed. Mother nature has done well enough on her own for millions of years.” 

This is not how environmental protection should work. No one in the SNH seems to be doing anything to stop urban sprawl. No one seems able to admit that the new deer guidelines are ridiculous – in fact they want their guidance to become law.  No one seems to care that salmon stocks are plummeting and seal populations are likewise declining.

No one in the SNH seems interested in the numbers of salmon escapees from fish farms, the farm-related pollution, or the welfare of the salmon in these farms. The SNH has, for me at any rate, absolutely no claim to impartiality, conservation, scientific method or integrity.  If there is anyone in the SNH who is concerned about these issues and is working on them, I would like to hear from them.

If this situation isn’t changed immediately, we will see a very different Scotland in a matter of a few decades – and it will not be one teaming with wildlife on or offshore.

Unless someone decides that protecting seals and salmon populations is more important than profit margins, we may wind up with no seals, no salmon and no profit margins.

With so many organisations reporting low salmon stocks and calling for quotas to be set for the netsmen, a prudent organisation would immediately spring to action. The worst that would happen is that the netters would take fewer animals, and therefore charge a higher price, and stocks might recover. But I expect no action from the SNH or Marine Scotland. And this is a great tragedy.

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May 092014

With the United Kingdom’s only known resident population of killer whales at risk of imminent extinction, securing new information about this endangered group is one of the ambitions of a new season of marine research expeditions being launched by Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT) this week.


The Silurian – Credit G. Leaper

In its 20th anniversary year, HWDT is recruiting volunteers to work alongside marine scientists in surveys running from May to October, to gather crucial data on whales, dolphins and porpoises – collectively known as cetaceans – and basking sharks in western Scotland’s seas.

The new expeditions form part of the only offshore, long-term cetacean monitoring scheme of its type in the UK and will be carried out from HWDT’s specialised research yacht Silurian, previously used in the filming of the BBC’s acclaimed series, The Blue Planet.

Eva Varga, HWDT Operations Manager said:

“Our 2014 surveys offer an excellent volunteering opportunity to help ensure the long-term survival of Scotland’s remarkable cetaceans and basking sharks, while learning new skills and exploring some of the most wild and remote corners of Britain,”

With cetaceans facing increasing stress from human activities such as climate change, entanglement in fishing gear, pollution, underwater noise and habitat degradation, the findings will strengthen knowledge of species’ distribution, habitats and behaviour, and will be used to strengthen future conservation action.

Volunteers will live and work on-board Silurian for up to 12 days, receiving training and working with scientists – conducting visual surveys, acoustic monitoring using hydrophones and specialist software, and identification of individual cetaceans through photography of their dorsal fins. They will also assist with the day-to-day running of Silurian.

Areas covered will depend on weather but will range between the Mull of Kintyre in the south, Cape Wrath in the north and St Kilda in the west. These seas are one of Europe’s most important habitats for cetaceans. The long and complex coastline, mixed ocean currents and wide variety of habitats make the Hebrides one of the most biologically productive areas in the UK.

HWDT research has revealed that Hebridean waters are home to what is thought to be the UK’s only resident group of killer whales – five males and four females known as the ‘West Coast Community’, whose conservation status is believed to be critical. The charity believes that the group is likely to become extinct in our lifetime, as no calves have yet been seen within the group for several years.

The charity’s findings also include the discovery that The Hebrides host what could be the UK’s smallest resident population of bottlenose dolphins and one of Europe’s highest densities of harbour porpoise.


The ‘West Coast Community’ of killer whales – at risk of extinction. Photo by N. Van Geel/HWDT.

Twenty-four species of whales, dolphins and porpoises – including several national and international conservation priorities – have now been recorded in the region.

HWDT is working to secure the future of western Scotland’s cetaceans and The Hebrides’ globally important marine environment by enhancing knowledge and understanding through education, research and engagement with local communities.

Its research data is used to inform policy makers and generate recommendations for effective marine management.

The charity – which is based in Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, where it has its main education and research offices and a visitor centre – believes that conservation of our marine environment can bring economic and social benefits to the whole region.

The 2014 surveys run from May to September and depart from Tobermory on the Isle of Mull or Kyle of Lochalsh. Participation costs cover boat expenses, support HWDT’s research programme and include accommodation, food and insurance onboard Silurian.

For details, contact Mark Whitaker at or 01688 302620, or visit

Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust,
28 Main Street,
Isle of Mull,
PA75 6NU

Tel: 01688 302620
Fax: 01688 302728

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Mar 182014

With thanks to John Robins, Animal Concern.

cut salmon from pixabay comFollowing another mass escape of farmed salmon into the wild the Scottish Government has been asked to ban marine fin fish farms and move all production to on-shore enclosed pond and caged systems.

Such systems pump in seawater which is filtered and returned clean into the natural environment.

In on-shore salmon farming fish welfare is raised and maintained, sea lice problems are eliminated and escaped fish cannot enter the marine environment where they can introduce disease and genetic damage to wild salmon stocks. Land based salmon farmers have no excuse to shoot and kill seals.

John Robins of Animal Concern states;

“Increasingly windy and stormy winters greatly raise the risk of floating factory fish farms being breached and releasing vast numbers of genetically inferior and perhaps diseased fish into the wild. Escapees cause havoc within wild salmon stocks. The only way to protect the marine environment and protect the welfare of farmed salmon is to get this industry out of our seas and into controlled on-shore facilities.

“The Scottish Government must realise it is not actually in the fish farming business and recognise that it has a duty to properly control the industry and protect the marine environment from the many downsides of intensive salmon farming. If the Scottish Government refuses to do this perhaps the companies which insure salmon farms will.”

Below is a copy of our request to the Scottish Government.

Rt. Hon. Richard Lochhead MSP,

Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Environment,

The Scottish Government,


Saturday, 08 March 2014

Dear Minister,

I write concerning the news that recent storms have caused the escape of 154,569 fish from a Meridian Salmon Group farm at Ness of Copister in Shetland. The company has also stated that they were unable to reach the farm for a period of two weeks because of the bad weather. Just over two years ago Meridian lost 300,000 salmon in a similar incident at another of its farms in Shetland.

These incidents highlight the very detrimental impact salmon farming inflicts on the marine ecosystem. They also raise serious questions about the welfare of salmon in floating factory fish farms.

Many of the salmon involved in this latest incident will have died from starvation, stress, physical trauma and entanglement in the mesh of the cage nets. Others will starve due to being unfit for life in the wild. Tens of thousands will however survive and compete with wild salmon for food.

The surviving escapees will migrate to rivers and may interbreed with wild salmon thus degrading the wild salmon gene pool.  Many salmon farms rely on medication to control or suppress disease and there is a very real risk of escaped fish transferring disease to wild salmon.

As has been seen over the last few years we are experiencing new patterns of weather including, due to movements in the jet stream, far stronger, more prolonged and more frequent winter storms. Gusts of hurricane force winds are no longer a once in twenty year occurrence but are being recorded several times a year. 

The only way to maintain the welfare of farmed salmon and protect the marine ecosystem from the damage caused by mass escapes of wild salmon is to move salmon farming onshore into self- contained pond and tank units. This was pioneered in Scotland by Otter Ferry Salmon in Argyll and I believe they currently have a very successful halibut farming operation on Gigha using these onshore techniques.  On-shore farming also eliminates the sea lice problem encountered on marine fish farms, avoids the pollution of large areas of seabed and gives salmon farmers absolutely no excuse to shoot seals.  

I urge the Scottish Government to protect our marine environment and maintain the welfare of farmed salmon by legislating to remove all fin fish farms from Scottish waters and encourage the industry to change to onshore tank based systems.

Yours sincerely,

John F. Robins,

For Animal Concern

PS. I find it unlikely that Meridian were the only salmon farmers to suffer loses in recent storms. Can you tell me what salmon farms have reported escapees since October 2013? Please give details including locations and number of fish lost. If necessary please regard this as a request under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 and/or the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004.

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Aug 302013

There has been a confirmed sighting of the West Coast Community of killer whales off Peterhead – the first time members of this small and highly unique population have been reported off Scotland’s east coast, reports the Hebridean Whale & Dolphin Trust. 

Killer whale ‘John Coe’ previously pictured by N. Van Geel/HWDT.

Killer whale ‘John Coe’ previously pictured by N. Van Geel/HWDT.

Video footage of the sighting, filmed by Peterhead man Ian Nash on 20 August, clearly shows a male whale known as John Coe, identifiable by a very distinctive dorsal fin notch, with another male and at least one female.
Led by Sightings Officer Mark Hosford, the Trust has established a wide-ranging sightings network and in cooperation with residents and seafarers continues to map the distribution of cetaceans off Scotland’s west coast.

The Trust has been monitoring this group’s movements since the early 1990s, with sightings recorded mainly in the Hebrides, Ireland and Wales.

Following this week’s Peterhead sighting, the charity can now expand significantly the known range of these apex predators.

Mark Hosford said:

This confirmed sighting is a really exciting development. The West Coast Community is thought to be the only resident population of orca in the British Isles, and understanding their behaviour and movements is crucial to the conservation of these remarkable creatures

John Coe’s distinctive notch allowed Sanna Kuningas of the Sea Mammal Research Unit to recognise him as part of the West Coast Community and  to alert HWDT and Dr Andy Foote, who has extensively studied orca populations in the NE Atlantic as part of the North Atlantic Killer Whale ID (NAKID) project.

The West Coast Community’s  entire population comprises just five males and four females, and no calves have ever been recorded in two decades of HWDT monitoring.

Dr Foote’s research confirmed that members of the West Coast Community never interact with other NE Atlantic populations, and are actually morphologically different from the area’s other populations in eye patch orientation. It is suspected that this small population preys exclusively on other cetaceans including porpoise and minke whale. All these variables point to a distinct, highly vulnerable killer whale population.

HWDT relies on members of the public to report sightings of whales, dolphins, porpoise and basking sharks to enable a better understanding of the marine environment, both locally and internationally.

Mark Hosford added:

The West Coast Community of orca has a range which includes a large portion of the western coast of the British Isles. This, together with the small number of individuals within the group, means that sightings of the West Coast Community can be few and far between.

The HWDT research vessel Silurian has a large area to cover and can only be in one place at a time, so having a community-based sightings network allows HWDT to gather much more information on the orca than we could on our own.”

Members of the public who encounter a cetacean or basking shark, can contribute to HWDT’s community sightings network by reporting sightings at

HWDT is dedicated to enhancing knowledge and understanding of Scotland’s whales, dolphins and porpoises and the Hebridean marine environment through education, research and working with local communities as a basis for the lasting conservation of species and habitats.

Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust,
28 Main Street,
Isle of Mull,
PA75 6NU

Tel: 01688 302620
Fax: 01688 302728

Aug 272013

By Bob Smith.

Awa ower in Swedish watters
Ye micht hear some affa screams
As a wee fishie in the sea
Connachs a fyow chiels’ dreams
Iss  hungry fishie it wid seem
His a likin fer mannies’ bas
They creep up fin yer sweemin
An grab them wi their jas
Fin yer awa ower in Sweden
Skinny dippin micht nae be gweed
Thae fishies fae roon aboot
Wid queue up fer a feed
A fyow billies wull be wary
If sweemin  the Oeresund Strait
The local lads faa fish there
Micht use fowks’ bas as bait
Noo we’re telt it’s aa a myth
The Pacu fishie winna bite
A mannie wis haein a joke
An the story wis jist shite
© Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2013
Image Credit: I, Omnitarian. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license
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