Aug 042017

Suzanne Kelly got involved in coastal ecology issues when she moved to Aberdeen. She was a community councillor who was on the East Grampian Coastal Partnership, and undertook several campaigns to protect green belt land, animals and she campaigned against the Trump golf course. After recent news stories from around the world, Suzanne talked to some animal experts about the growing problem of people taking selfies with wildlife including Lee Watson of Ythan Seal Watch who supplied the photos and John Robins of Animal Concern Advice Line and Save Our Seals Fund.

Selfie hunters disturb wildlife. Courtesy of Lee Watson Ythan Seal Watch

Scotland’s wildlife is suffering because of loss of habitat, pollution, dwindling food supplies and poaching in Scotland. 
In Aberdeen evidence of poaching was found on Tullos Hill in the summer of 2014. The city has some of Scotland’ most polluted streets. 
In Torry, protected species are going to lose shelter, food and water as Nigg Bay becomes industrialised. 

In the shire seal populations are supposed to be protected by signs, fences, and warning flags in the sand, but these deterrents are being ignored.

Seals need to ‘haul out’ or rest on the sands for many hours before they take to sea for food again. People are legally bound to leave them alone, yet these seals are bombarded by overhead drones, dogs off leashes, and people finding it amusing to frighten the resting seals back into the water to take videos. This behaviour is prohibited, the signs are clear, and yet people persist. 

John Robins of the charities Animal Concern Advice Line and Save Our Seals Fund said:

“People stupid enough to take selfies with wild animals probably don’t care if their idiocy ends in the death of the animal. They are not concerned that their actions cause stress and suffering to animals and the abandonment of young animals by their parents.

“Perhaps they will be more concerned to learn that disturbing animals can lead to the selfie taker ending up in a police cell, a hospital bed or on a slab at the local mortuary. Unless you have a special licence, it is illegal to take photographs of many protected species of animal and bird. Get caught doing that and you will be carted off to the police station.

“Seals, even cute and cuddly pups, have a nasty bite which carries a high risk of very dangerous infections which can lead to long term debility and even death. Many other animals and birds carry zoonosis, diseases including salmonella, e-coli and even rabies which can infect humans. My advice is to use your brain before your camera.”

Animals can be exhausted and in need of rest, frightened, injured, and must be left alone at a large distance. When visiting wildlife habitats, remember to find out the rules in advance, obey any signs, and listen to any directions you are given by any rangers or wildlife officials. Our wildlife is having a hard time – don’t make it harder.

Lee Watson of Ythan Seal Watch has been raising awareness and challenging illegal behaviour for several seasons now. A group of volunteers formed the Ythan Seal Watch and try to safeguard seals and nesting birds. Their Facebook page reads:

 “The Ythan Seal haul-out is now designated and the Seals are legally protected from harassment. We will work with the relevant wildlife and law enforcement agencies in support of this and we will continue to film and monitor the Seal haul-out and any irresponsible behaviour.”

If you are aware of any wildlife crime in the UK – illegal hunting, poaching, snaring – anything – please don’t let it go without calling 999 if it is happening now, or 101 for anything else.

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May 292015

The presence of Sea Shepherd UKs seal defence crew have ensured that no seals were shot on the bank holiday at the small coastal village of Crovie despite attempts by Usan Salmon Fisheries Ltd marksmen to do just that. Three employees from Scottish Wild Salmon Company were dispatched to Crovie on the Moray coast to shoot iconic Scottish seals on Monday 25th May. The company hold licences issued by Marine Scotland to shoot seals despite seals being cited as one of Scotland’s Big 5 for wildlife watchers. From Sea Shepherd UK

usan nets gardenstown 27 april 2014

USAN nets – Gardenston 27 April 2014. Picture Credit: Suzanne Kelly

Sea Shepherd land crew assigned to watch the small coastal village of Crovie on Gamrie bay intercept and film three employees of USAN Salmon Fisheries Ltd (AKA: Scottish Wild Salmon Company) at Crovie in Aberdeenshire as they look for seals to kill – but the presence of our crew and our cameras ensured no seals were shot.

The gunman and two other SWSC employees who drove down in their company 4×4 vehicle into the small village of Crovie used the residents only car park and walked along to Crovie pier (followed by Sea Shepherd crew from two directions in plain clothes) with a rifle and ammunition while residents, holiday makers and guests of a wedding that took place this weekend were around the village.

Sea Shepherd campaign crew identified themselves and filmed while the gunman and two assistants looked for seals in front the small village to shoot.

Meanwhile Sea Shepherd boat crew took Sea Shepherd UK’s RIB ‘Mermaid of Makaha’ from Gardenstown Harbour to continue monitoring the same company employees at sea. The Scottish Wild Salmon Company has a permit issued by Marine Scotland (Scottish Government) to shoot dead Scotland’s iconic seals if they interfere with the company’s coastal salmon bag nets or catch.

Seals have been shot previously around Scotland under permit from Marine Scotland, sometimes illegally without permits or outside granted permit conditions to protect the profits of many wild salmon netting companies and also fish farm operations.

The entire seal permit system is totally open to abuse with a complete lack of monitoring in place – except by Sea Shepherd where we are now in our second year of our very successful Seal Defence Campaign around Scotland (and also separately by members of the the Hunt Saboteurs Association who are watching over the seals around the coastline South of Montrose, Angus).

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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.]

Feb 052015

Several concerned members of the public have reported visitors to wildlife areas such as the Ythan Estuary are paying no respect to the wildlife. People are ignoring signs and other visitors – and pestering the seals. It may seem cute or fun to go up close to seals – but they need to be left alone. One such walker has shared these pictures and their observations. Via Suzanne Kelly.

Photo No. 1

If you visit a wildlife area, please remember that the animals you see are not there for your entertainment.

Our wildlife is to be left alone, with the exception of the discovery of a wounded or obviously distressed creature. Anyone needing assistance or advice can call the Scottish SPCA on 03000 999 999.

Walkers have been observed scaring the seals at the Ythan. They ignored advice and pleas to back away from the animals.

When seals leave the water, they are often seeking rest after exhausting efforts to feed. Here are some photos of what not to do. If you recognise anyone in these photos, please let them know that they need to give animals a wide berth.

Photo No. 2

Said walker, who wished to remain anonymous commented:

“Couple No.1 decided to approach the seals today.

“We shouted to them to back off from the seals after they had scared the first group into the water.

“They did and stood around for a bit before deciding to ignore us and walk past the larger group of seals. 

Photo No. 3

“Couple No. 2 proceeded past Couple No.1 and stood around near the seals that were waiting for them to leave so they could haul out again.

“One young seal was still out the water on its own not far from them.

“They then walked towards the main area of seals.

seal_botherers_1_jan_15“Again we had to shout over to them to keep away from the seals before they backed off. 

“Last picture is a couple walking their dog on the other side.

Thankfully the dog was on a lead and they did give the seals a wide berth, but still a little close for comfort for us watching. 

Photo No. 5

“As we were leaving we could see more people making their way along the beach towards the seals. Clearly something needs done to protect the seals from people.

“These people obviously did not mean any harm to the seals, but were too oblivious to realise what they were doing. But what about people who might find it funny to chase or scare the seals?”

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Sep 052014

With thanks to Don Staniford Director, Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture.

friendly looking sealThe Scottish Government is set for another bloody battle with Scotland’s Information Commissioner after refusing to disclose how many seals have been killed by salmon farmers.

On Thursday 21 August, GAAIA filed a formal review seeking to over-turn the Scottish Government’s refusal to disclose the information.

In May last year the Scottish Government were finally forced to publish the names of salmon farms in Scotland killing seals – with data made available online for 2013, 2012 and 2011

This week’s refusal to disclose data for 2014 runs counter to rulings made by the Scottish Information Commissioner in November 2012 and April 2013. The Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture is now calling for a boycott of Scottish farmed salmon.

“It’s shameful that the Scottish Government is once again protecting the predominantly Norwegian-owned salmon farming industry from public scrutiny rather than protecting Scotland’s seals,” said Don Staniford, Director of the Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture

“Surely the public have a right to know which sites are killing seals and make an informed decision about the salmon they are buying? 

“Judging by previous rulings, the Scottish Information Commissioner should force the Government to name and shame those salmon farmers with blood on their hands. In the meantime, consumers wanting to avoid seal-unfriendly products should play it safe by boycotting all Scottish farmed salmon.”

John Robins of Animal Concern added:

“Marine Scotland and the Scottish Government are continuing to treat Freedom of Information legislation with total contempt,”

“At the moment there are a number of cases where they have either totally failed to meet time limits for responding to FOI requests, refused FOI requests or have released paperwork with so many redactions that it is incomprehensible.

“Alex Salmond and his Ministers are bending over backwards to protect netsmen who are killing thousands of wild salmon before they can swim upriver and breed and a mainly foreign owned factory fish farming industry which profits from damaging the Scottish marine environment and killing the creatures which inhabit that environment.”

Read GAAIA’s request for a review (21 August 2014) of the Scottish Government’s refusal to disclose seal killing salmon farm information online here – the review request includes:

“The real reason the Scottish salmon farming industry does not want data on seal killing salmon farms to be disclosed is market success and the future certification of farmed salmon. In December 2012, the SSPO wrote to the Scottish Government claiming that the release of the names of the seal-killing salmon farms would “have a direct impact on the market success of their products” (read the SSPO’s letter in full online here).”

More info:

Sunday Times Article 24.08.2014: “End Secrecy Over Seal Deaths
Scottish Information Commissioner’s rulings in 26 November 2012 and 23 April 2013 and press statement in April 2013.
Letters to the US Government calling for ban on imports of farmed salmon – online here
Humpback whale was killed by a salmon farm off the Isle of Mull in July – read more via “Salmon Farming Kills Whales“.
More background via “The Killing Farms” and “Scottish Salmon’s Seal Killers!

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Apr 282014
scottish wild salmon company sign in gardenstown 27 april 2014

Scottish Wild Salmon Company sign in Gardenstown 27 April 2014. Image Credit: Suzanne Kelly

By Suzanne Kelly.

When Scottish Wild Salmon Company (SWSC), a subsidiary of Montrose-based USAN Salmon Fisheries Ltd arrived in Gardenstown, the landowner made it clear there was no permission to shoot seals from his property.  At least one such illegal seal shooting took place last year, yet no one was charged.

Tourists who had witnessed the episode last year abruptly cancelled bookings and left; some locals were concerned; some angered.

This year the SWSC pledged not to use lethal methods to deter seals from going near its salmon nets near the Ythan Estuary. The SWSC arrived in Gardenstown and Crovie this year to net large numbers of salmon (we have asked for figures but no answer has been received yet). They arrived with guns.

Sea Shepherd arrived to monitor the situation this year. Here’s what’s happened since.

A Video Nasty

Sea Shepherd personnel were harassed by SWSC operatives, and a video was released, showing an example of this. The video showed three SWSC operatives cursing at, and intimidating Sea Shepherd and trying to stop them filming which Sea Shepherd had every right to do.

The owner of the area of land in front of the building and yard SWSC operates from has forbidden shooting. Sea Shepherd’s internet posting reads:-

“We have debated long and hard over whether to release this video showing Scottish Wild Salmon Company staff behaving in a threatening and abusive manner to one of our volunteers. Our final decision was made for us when these very same employees arrived at our beach clean last Friday to intimidate our staff, even making sexually explicit comments to one of our female volunteers.

“We hope that the residents of Gardenstown and Crovie will continue to come forward to tell the Scottish Wild Salmon Company that they are bringing disgrace to this otherwise beautiful part of Scotland not only with their seal slaughter but also with their behaviour in public.”

In a concurrent development, invoices were hand delivered to the Sea Shepherd charity demanding thousands of pounds in fees for filming in the harbour area; these invoices were since withdrawn. It is understood that not everyone in the harbour board was happy with these invoices being issued in the first place.


It is proven that Sea Shepherd were threatened by people intent on shooting seals who had rifles; why there is no prosecution forthcoming is unclear.

Crovie looking towards location of wild salmon netting 27 April 2014. Image Credit: Suzanne Kelly

Crovie looking towards location of wild salmon netting 27 April 2014. Image Credit: Suzanne Kelly

It has also been proven that there is no permission to shoot seals granted by the landowner:  no one can shoot seals in Gardenstown and Crovie lands.

What men are doing walking around the area with shotguns then is something of a worry and certainly reason for the law enforcement agencies to step in. (Aberdeen Voice readers may well want to compare and contrast the way in which men with rifles are walking around these coastal towns, having been proven to engage in threatening behaviour, and the ‘Siege of Heathryfold’).

Aberdeen Voice has been told that the SWSC’s operatives are living in a non-residential building. While that is not a huge violation of law, it is still illegal. However, the more serious accusation has been made to Aberdeen Voice that guns are being stored in the SWSC’s building.

Aberdeen Voice will share this allegation with SWSC and the police, and will report back with any responses.

If the rifles are not being stored in the building in question, then where are they being legally stored? Did the police investigate how the guns are being stored when they investigated the video of Sea Shepherd’s man being threatened by people who had rifles?

A Walk on the Wild Salmon Side

Aberdeen Voice visited Gardenstown and Crovie, and spoke to locals and Sea Shepherd. No SWSC employees were visible, and their premises locked; it was a weekend. SWSC has given their position in an earlier email, the contents of which appear in the comments section of a previous article, and will be welcome to explain some of the issues arising from this article.

Despite proponents saying that shooting seals is essential and no concern to the people of the north east, many locals are very much opposed to the idea of shooting seals. As one explained:

“A presentation was made to the local heritage society [about studies done involving St Andrew’s University about sonic deterrents to seals]; there are ways to stop salmon being eaten by seals. There are sonic devices which keep the seals away, and there are ways to construct salmon nets so that seals can’t get in. Shooting should not be happening.”

Another said:

“I put the blame for this on Marine Scotland.  I tried to get answers from them and find out how and why they issued any permits to kill seals.  I telephoned – but I never got the promised answer back. With salmon farming taking place (which has lots of room for improvement in how the salmon are treated), there should not be any large scale netting of wild salmon. The smaller anglers are against what’s happening as well.”

And another local added:

Gardenstown harbour 27 April 2014. Image Credit: Suzanne Kelly.

Gardenstown harbour 27 April 2014. Image Credit: Suzanne Kelly.

“I have been documenting seal shooting since the seal was shot from Crovie pier last year. I will keep doing so, and I am opposed to SWSC shooting seals. I think there are two net areas (to the east) of Crovie.”

Finally, one local resident commented:

“…there are studies done on the material found in seal waste; I believe the study showed that salmon is not a large part of the seal’s diet.”  [seals eat a wide variety of sea life; salmon is far from their only food].

During our visit, Aberdeen Voice did not find a single local resident who wants gunman shooting seals in the area.

Non Net Income:  Value of Wildlife Tourism

Some would spread the belief that the salmon industries, wild and farmed, must be allowed to do as they please for the benefit of the rural communities.  The government says otherwise; wildlife tourism is big business. A Scottish Government  2010 report, ‘The True Value of Wildlife Tourism’ advises:

“… 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. This form of tourism appealed greatly to UK-based visitors and Scots themselves, accounting for 56 per cent of trips. And it was these UK visitors who generated 75 per cent of the income.”

Seals under threat

The UK  has common and grey seals; the common seal population is declining. We know that illegal shooting takes place (in areas other than Crovie). Aside from the danger of being shot, seals are suffering from pollution from the oil industry, marine activity and plastic waste in the water; depleted fish stocks further threaten seals, sea birds and other marine life.

Arguably we should be protecting the seal population, cleaning our water, and perhaps even taking less Atlantic salmon. An Irish-based research paper reports a drop of 75% in Atlantic Salmon populations:

“Atlantic salmon stocks in Ireland have declined by 75% in recent years (Anon 2008), and although conservation measures have been put in place, salmon stocks in many Irish rivers are below their conservation limits (Anon 2008).” – A pilot study on seal predation on salmon stocks in selected Irish rivers and estuaries.

The Gardenstown and Crovie communities do not operate solely on the basis of salmon fishing; tourism, leisure pursuits and arts play a part. These activities have demonstrably been hit by the arrival of seal shooters with rifles, witness the tourists who left after they saw the shooting last year.

Sea Shepherd will continue to monitor the activities of SWSC, as will concerned locals.

John Robins of Save Our Seals Fund said:

“Sea Shepherd and the Hunt Saboteurs Association have done a great job in bringing this issue back to public attention. I have no doubt they saved many seals from being shot at Gamrie Bay. We now need the general public to help save seals from being shot all around Scotland by signing our Petition calling on the Scottish Parliament to stop issuing licenses to shoot seals.”

Aberdeen Voice will likewise report on any further developments.

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Apr 212014

seal_photo With thanks to Suzanne Kelly.

Operatives of a marine conservation charity claim to have been threatened by potential seal shooters.
On Easter Monday Aberdeen Voice spoke with a Sea Shepherd observer who claims there is a video showing the seal hunters physically intimidating those who would stop any shooting.

It is understood the police are investigating.

The state of play is a far cry from USAN’s George Pullar’s promise to use non-lethal measures.

Many in Scotland were unhappy at this commercial firm moving into the area to net salmon and trout; now it seems their promises have already been broken.

USAN is the parent company of Scottish Wild Salmon Company. Aberdeen Voice has left phone messages and emailed for comments on this development, but the company has not responded.

Potential shooters are alleged to claim they will take any opportunity they can to kill seals. Sea Shepherd likewise says it will remain present 24/7 during the season and will document any illegal shooting – or harrrassment – that takes place.

Sea Shepherd UK (SSUK) have deployed seal defence teams to Gardenstown, Banffshire to protect iconic Scottish Seals from being shot by killers from the Scottish Wild Salmon Company.

Over the Easter holiday last year (2013) it was widely reported in local press that the Scottish Wild Salmon Company had been indiscriminately killing seals in and around Gamrie Bay.

The Laird of Gardenstown and Crovie, Marc Ellington DL expressed concern over both the unnecessary killing and the resultant damage to an already fragile local tourist industry and wished SSUK every success to ensure that Easter Weekend this year resulted in zero kills.

From reports detailing the 2013 seal slaughter, SSUK quickly realised that they would need undercover personnel on the ground in advance of any deployment to gain information on the movements of the Scottish Wild Salmon Company’s seal killing team.

news-140417-1-3-Sea-Shepherd-UK-Taking-Action-to-Defend-Scottish-Seals-800wSSUK’s own covert operatives were already engaged in other areas of Scotland where seal killing is taking place and our intent was to make sure our main seal defence group was very high profile in Gardenstown and Crovie.

We therefore took the opportunity to join forces with the Hunt Saboteurs Association for this seal defence action.

Following their successful campaign against the English Badger Cull it was clear that the HSA had the necessary skills to assist us with this task and were willing to put themselves at risk from the seal killers in order to help us achieve our zero kill aim.

Since arriving in the area the HSA undercover team have ranged across the territory on foot monitoring seal kill zones from beaches, hillsides and treacherous cliff-top locations often in extreme weather conditions.

The intelligence gathered has allowed SSUK to develop an effective plan for seal protection should the Scottish Wild Salmon Company be outrageous enough to attempt another seal slaughter either in full view of the public or hidden from view in less accessible places.

SSUK personnel are now in position in Gardenstown and Crovie with a Sea Shepherd RIB designed for inshore work of this nature.

They also have access to the full Sea Shepherd range of surveillance equipment including remotely operated drones and hidden camera devices if necessary. The command team on the ground are in routine contact with all relevant authorities as well as Crimestoppers and a network of local observers and activists.

news-140417-1-4-Sea-Shepherd-UK-Taking-Action-to-Defend-Scottish-Seals-800wSSUK will be operating in the area for as long as necessary to ensure that the Scottish Wild Salmon Company obey the law and do not kill any seals this Easter.

SSUK is also investigating other firms in Scotland who may be illegally killing seals and would encourage any concerned members of the public to contact us at if they suspect any criminal intent towards marine wildlife.

Aberdeen Voice is grateful for permission to reproduce text and pictures from the Sea Shepherd UK official website.

Update on SSUK site –

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Jun 132013

Countryside lovers could be forgiven for thinking that environmental protection is a thing of the past in Scotland. Urban Sprawl is removing our green belt. Air, land and sea pollution in many cases exceeds EU maximum levels: roads in Aberdeen are among the country’s top ten most polluted roads.

Species protection and sensible, humane management of wildlife doesn’t seem to exist. The agencies charged with guarding our natural heritage for the present and for future generations seem to be stocked with those who place commercial interests above wildlife. In a four part series, Suzanne Kelly looks at this cull of the wild, focusing on Seal, Badger, Deer and Bird of Prey issues.

Late in 1998, during the ‘International Year of the Ocean’, Mi’kmaq Elder and Chief Charlie Labrador was asked by the ‘International Ocean Institute’ to address a major scientific conference held in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The theme of the conference was ‘the crisis of knowledge’. The following is an excerpt from Charlie’s speech to the gathering of marine scientists

“What you are telling me is you don’t know how to fish…You use the word ‘technology,’ but in my time there has been a decrease in everything…If something isn’t done soon, there will be no more time for any of us. There has to be something better than technology. It was sad a few years ago when our seals got the blame for taking the cod. It wasn’t their fault…those who harvest the earth’s resources must begin putting as much back into it as they remove…”

Debbie MacKenzie

Seal culling – excuses despite humane solutions.

Perhaps Scotland doesn’t condone the clubbing of baby seals for fur, as is the case elsewhere, but the persecution of seals is a bloody, brutal reality.

Seals are being blamed for taking caged fish. Let’s dispense with the concept of ‘farmed’ fish which the industry favours, these are sentient, intelligent creatures which normally would move from the rivers to the seas and back. They are kept in crowded cages where they have been observed to be unhealthy and stressed.

The cages are protected to some small degree by netting; netting which by law is meant not to harm other wildlife such as the seals. This is not always the case, as a recent and nearly unique conviction shows.

Conviction Light:  Graham McNally.

On the 28th of May of this year Graham McNally, 52, was convicted of using nets for the purpose of trapping and killing seals. This was the first such conviction in the UK under the 20 year old Conservation (Natural Habitats) Regulations 1994 and was heard at Lerwick Sheriff Court.  (Further details from ).

A quick glance at related headlines might let a reader conclude that this was a great result, but the real story is different. The first issue to be considered is why there has been no other successful prosecution in 19 years for using nets for killing seals: does anyone really think this is the only instance?

Secondly, this man was fined… £800. Such a sum will be happily paid and in all likelihood amounts to nothing more than a mildly inconvenient business expense. The paucity of convictions for offenses against seals should be remedied, and the fines increased; it is a pity that the Government prefers to go after those on benefits with more than one bedroom to live in, with more zest than it shows in stopping seal persecution.

Thirdly, and possibly the most alarming development in this case involves the apparent concealment of the evidence.  According to Shetland News :-

“… John Robins, of the Save Our Seals Fund, said that McNally originally pled not guilty to setting illegal nets between August 2009 and August 2011, based on evidence that seals had been entangled and drowned in such nets.

“Robins has written to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) asking if the charges were amended in return for a guilty plea or for any other reason, asking why the reference to the killing of seals was removed from the charges.

““Unless I have tangled up my court cases I was expecting hard evidence of dead seals to be presented by the prosecution,” Robins said, “I hope there was a very, very good reason why this evidence was dropped”

“The wildlife campaigner has also written to environment secretary Richard Lochhead using this case to repeat his call for proprietary anti-predator nets to be made compulsory at all Scottish salmon farms.” ) :-

Aberdeen Voice readers and Tullos Hill deer campaigners will know John Robins for the work he did in helping to protest the deer cull, which with the massive tree planting on Tullos Hill was pushed through despite huge public opposition. Again, the motivation there was financial . The public was told that this was the least expensive way to plant trees, on a former rubbish tip with little soil and North Sea exposure, at Tullos. John told Aberdeen Voice:-

“The Shetland court case reinforces my demand for the Scottish Government to make humane predator exclusion nets compulsory at all marine fin fish farms. Properly installed and maintained these nets would eliminate any need to shoot seals and create much needed jobs in rural communities.”

“Scotland is turning into culling country. Geese, crows, deer, squirrels, wild goats  are all being slaughtered in the name of conservation. This is the Year of Natural Scotland. An appropriate way to mark this would be to give every visitor a gun or a trap as they cross the border.”

A Man to Remember, who forgot why he clubbed baby seals:  James Stewart.

The fines meted out to those who shoot, club and drown our seals is normally minimal – where it exists at all. Not all are involved in farmed fish; some are coastal residents and/or fishermen.  Here however is a man to watch in future, who displayed particular contempt for and cruelty to seals:-

47 year-old fisherman James Stewart from Shetland was jailed for 80 days for clubbing 21 baby seals to death with a fence post. He admitted killing the animals as they lay on a beach on the island of East Linga but he did not explain why he did it.

Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation – A Powerful Club.

The salmon industry represents that seals must be shot. In 2009 the BBC recorded spokesperson Scott Landsburgh of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation. He claimed that ‘only 498’ seals were shot in that year – a most precise figure indeed. He also claimed seals stole thousands of salmon from the farms. ‘Our primary interest is the welfare of the salmon’ –  he said.

Presumably this welfare doesn’t extend to giving them more space or feeding them up until the time of a humane destruction. But what is the SSPO and how do they operate?

The SSPO represents several salmon producers, including Marine Harvest, Loch Duart and Wester Ross. Their website offers some impressive statistics which include:-

The growth in the UK salmon market:

  • 1 million fresh salmon meals are eaten in the UK every day;
  • 1 million smoked salmon meals are eaten in the UK every week;
  •  An additional 40 million servings of fresh salmon were consumed in UK households between 2006 and 2008.

Export performance of Scottish farmed salmon:

  • The worldwide retail value of Scottish farmed salmon is over £1 billion;
  • over 60 countries imported fresh Scottish salmon in 2011;
  • the USA is the largest export market for Scottish farmed salmon, followed by France;
  • Scottish farmed salmon topped the RSPCA’s Freedom Food chart in 2009, with an impressive 60% of production participating in the stringent animal welfare scheme.

This adds up to a very rich and powerful lobby.

The SSPO website goes on to boast that information on sea lice has now been divulged. In terms of newsworthiness, this is rather like divulging who won last year’s X Factor. Do note that sea lice are not like the little flies we know – they are parasitic, blood sucking creatures that cause suffering.

Contempt of Law, Contempt of Wildlife

Local landowner Marc Ellington disagrees with seal shooting.  He has given notice to Usan Salmon Fisheries to stay off his land for the purpose of shooting seals, but they don’t seem to be taking any notice.

While land can be freely accessed for recreational purposes or crossed (unless you are a Menie Estate resident  to whom the law is turning a blind eye), you cannot go onto private land for the purpose of shooting, and seals cannot be shot at from boats – although we know that this is taking place. An article with Ellington’s comments can be found here:

In it he says:-

“The company concerned has no business discharging firearms on land owned by Gardenstown and Crovie Estate without permission,” said Mr Ellington.

“They have not sought permission to use firearms on the estate to shoot seals, and permission would not be granted under any circumstances to do so.

“I am unhappy on a personal level, as someone with an interest in conservation, that seals are being shot at all, and I am especially concerned that there are reports of them being shot from estate land.”

The law is on Ellington’s side – but the carcasses of shot seals keep appearing in the area.  In one particularly disturbing photo, those who shot a particular seal took a photo of the seal on the shore with a cigarette in its mouth and an alcoholic beverage as if it were drinking and smoking,  These are the kinds of people who we have shooting seals.

It is clear that the advent of caged fish production is linked to the culling of our seals. What is life like for a salmon in a cage?

School of thought on Schools of Caged Fish.

Private Eye has for years carried stories on sea lice escaping from fish farms and infecting the wild, chemical contamination, and a little known food chain development:-

“In March, the satirical magazine Private Eye reported that the European Commission had quietly lifted a twelve-year-old ban on feeding ground-up animal remains to farmed animals; the ban was imposed in the wake of the mad cow disease scare when the practice of doing so was blamed for causing the disease.

“In the first instance the relaxation of the rule will only apply to fish farmers, who from June 1 will be allowed to feed leftovers from chicken and pigs to their captive salmon; the Commission argued that because in nature animals eat other animals, there was nothing to worry about – although they failed to explain how, ‘in nature’, salmon ate chicken and pigs.

“The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) advice to government was that in principal the risk [of disease transfer to humans] would be negligible provided that it could be ensured that it was only chicken and pig going into fish feed; although in practice they noted that adequate controls were lacking. The SFA also said that no one could know for certain that pigs and chickens would not prove susceptible to “transmissible spongiform encephalopathy.” So that’s all right then, isn’t it?”

Life is not a natural one for caged salmon; they are denied space; they are prone to parasites and disease, and the methods of slaughter used are condemned by organisations including Compassion in World Farming, which issued a report –

This reads in part:-

“About 35 million each of salmon and trout are slaughtered annually in the UK.

“Farmed fish are normally starved for 7-10 days before slaughter. Inhumane slaughter methods for trout include suffocation in air or on ice. Carbon dioxide stunning, another inhumane method causing immobility well before unconsciousness, is used for both salmon and trout….

“Trout are often stocked so densely that 13-27 trout measuring 30 cm (1 ft) long are allocated the equivalent of a bathtub of water.

“ High incidences of severe and blinding cataracts have been found in farmed salmon. Infestation with parasitic sea lice is a serious problem for farmed salmon. Lice feed on their host. Damage can be so severe that the skull of the living fish can be exposed.

“Biotechnology is used widely in the UK trout industry to produce chromosome-manipulated “triploid” fish.”

At the time of writing, USAN has not responded to questions put to it.  Comments on fish welfare would be welcome from the industry or its lobbyists.  Perhaps we should be worried about our own welfare as well.

To your health?

Is all this wildlife damage and persecution doing us any good?  Scientific American is not alone in warning of high levels of mercury and PCBs, a chemical linked to disease in humans. A recent article can be found here;-

The caged fish industry does have a fair amount of problems to solve, but they are efficient at lobbying.

Environmental Protection – Supine SEPA.

The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency is not exactly getting glowing reports for its performance in many areas.  It is ‘unable’ to determine which company or companies are polluting East Tullos Burn in the backyard of its own Aberdeen HQ.  It does not seem to respond to questions put to it on its online contact form (no email addresses are supplied). And in the case of managing fish farms, as per the Guardian, it is falling down on the job:-

“Don Staniford, the anti-fish farming campaigner who has investigated SEPA’s monitoring data, tabling a series of detailed Freedom of Information requests, was blunter. He said salmon farming was a “malignant cancer”.

“SEPA’s statutory duty is to stop companies such as Marine Harvest using Scottish waters as a toxic toilet and dumping ground for chemical contaminants,” he said. “Yet SEPA has shamefully opened the floodgates to the use of a cocktail of chemicals. Shame on Scottish salmon farming and shame on SEPA.”


Fish farms bring money and jobs to rural areas. They also, according to my research, bring disease to the captive animals, cruelty, pollution, persecution of seals, and some would argue human health problems where high concentrations of PCBs are involved. Is Scotland that short of jobs that profits must be maximised to the extent that animal welfare, compassion, ethics and respect for the environment are sacrificed further?

It is possible to improve cage protection to keep seals away without shooting or cruelly drowning them in nets. The organisations that could help – our police wildlife officers and the SNH – must do more. Culling our wildlife is not an acceptable means of justifying big profit margins.

Perhaps it is time to create a more powerful pro-animal, pro-environment lobby to counteract the efforts of the lobbyists who want to destroy our wildlife.

Suggested Actions

  • Stop buying any farmed trout or salmon.
  • Tell your preferred supermarket chains you will not be buying farmed fish.
  • Lobby your representatives (find them at ) expressing concerns for the seals, the farmed fish – and your own health.
  • Write to Marine Scotland, which licenses people to shoot seals, and state your opposition to the shooting of seals.
  • If you are in the vicinity of any fish farms, report any sightings of seal hunting.  Record anything suspicious and share with the police, and with Aberdeen Voice.
  • Support organisations such as the Scottish SPCA, Compassion in World Farming, Seal Protection Action Group, One Kind and Animal  Concern Advice Line. You will find their details on the internet.

We and our legislators should be demanding that the fish farm, which is in reality the caged fish, industry cleans up their issues. These include:-

  • Overcrowding.
  • Cruelty. Fish are often starved for days before they are killed.
  • Parasitic infections such as sea lice, pollution (occasionally escaping from the cages);
  • and of course shooting and drowning of seals.

Further Reading

Our Government has decided that rather than demanding better cages to keep the seals away and better life quality for the caged fish, that licensing people to shoot seals is the answer.  It is not the only answer, but it is the one that those who like to hunt, and those who want to keep fish farm costs minimal might well favour.

The lobbying efforts of the powerful industry groups have made our officials focus instead on the perceived, invented need to destroy our seals. Experts have shown that better, more robust cages for the salmon, which certainly do not have an enviable existence, would prevent seals from taking fish from the farms.

But licensed and unlicensed killing is taking place to the detriment of the seals and the seas.  The motivation seems to be, unsurprisingly, financial.

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