The undercover team that had so much success in gathering the information that lead to the suspension of the seal cull at Gardenstown in April returned to Scotland on the 23rd of July, this time accompanied by a new member of the Glasgow Hunt Saboteurs.
Their target on this occasion was the salmon farming industry on the West coast of Scotland. Many of the salmon farming companies have licences to shoot seals and have reported that they have done so on the most recent returns. A baby Humpback whale drowned under a salmon farm on Mull the week before the team arrived on the coast.
Unlike the salmon netsmen on the East coast, the salmon farmers have not stirred up substantial local opposition, so good local information was hard to come by in advance. What was clear from the press was that there were problems within the industry. One company had recently been reported for passing off Chilean salmon as the more expensive Scottish variety, whilst another had lost its contract with Asda after it had been shown to have faked an environmental impact survey.
Once in place on the coast, the sabs began the painstaking task of surveying hundreds of miles of coastline. Dozens of fish and shellfish farms were identified and logged and, as at Gardenstown, information about them gathered from a variety of sources. Many of the farms are in remote and inaccessible areas, but thanks to the high quality photographic equipment carried by the sabs (part funded by a ‘Gofundme’, so thanks to everyone who supported this) and some audacious new sabbing tactics, amazing images of the activity at the fish farms were recorded.
What quickly became apparent is that the seal and otter populations have been devastated. Only one of the lochs the sabs visited had evidence of seals in any numbers. Conversations with local people revealed a grim picture. Loch Sunart, from where Sainsburys claim to obtain their salmon (although they have twice been pulled up for mislabelling recently) seems to have less biodiversity than the Sahara, yet locals told the sabs that it used to teem with seals and otters. At Loch Leven one local man said that there used to be so many wild salmon coming to spawn that you couldn’t help but tread on them if you waded in the lake, but that he hadn’t seen any for years.
The sabs decided to get a closer look at the fish farms and processing plants. Loch Creran is a Marine Special Area of Conservation due to its biogenic reefs, yet it is also home to a vast fish farm and processing plant owned by Scottish Sea Farms, who shoot seals. Each of the 14 pens, 40m in diameter and 15m deep, imprison 60,000 fish. Seals are driven away by ‘Acoustic Harassment Devices’ which are audible underwater to the human ear for at least 40m. The distance at which seals can hear these devices is not known and there are concerns that they may have a detrimental effect on porpoises.
There are also concerns about the effects of the chemicals used to control disease amongst the farmed fish on shellfish and crustacean populations, and one local oyster farm visited by the sabs seemed to be virtually derelict.
The Scottish Sea farms processing plant at Loch Creran is disgusting. Fish arrive in ’well boats’ from fish farms around the coast, alive but partly frozen. They are then sucked out of the boat and through a long tube to the processing plant where they are killed and packaged. The inhumanity of partially freezing sentient beings then vacuuming them to their deaths left the sabs aghast. Scottish Sea Farms supply Marks and Spencers under the fake ‘Lochmuir’ brandname.
The Marine Harvest facility at Loch Leven was the next target. Unlike Scottish Sea Farms, Marine Harvest use square pens. The staff told the sabs that this was better for them as the walkways were higher above the water, but had the disadvantage that the weaker fish got trapped in the corners by the more dominant ones and slowly starved to death. The bodies sank to the bottom and were scooped out later. These barbaric pens held upto 78000 fish each, and again the fish were sucked to their deaths at the onsite processing plant. Research by the sabs at Loch Sunart suggests that Marine Harvest is the company that supplies Sainsburys, but they refused to comment when we asked them.
The final fish farm visit was a Dawn Fresh Trout farm at Lock Etive, one of several they have on the Loch. Dawn Fresh are a new company and have been funded by the EU. The sabs obtained remarkable underwater footage of the poor condition of the fish and proved that the Acoustic Harassment Devices are audible all the way to the shore, thus denying seals to opportunity to haul out should they need to.
The Scottish government was recently ordered by the Scottish Information Commissioner to release details of all the companies who kill seals and the specific locations at which seals are shot. They had done everything possible to suppress this information, and despite the ruling, the information still does not seem to be available. The government seems to be determined to turn a blind eye to the suffering of the farmed fish and the environmental destruction wrought by fish farming, preferring instead to concentrate on the profits that fish farming makes, which is strange as nearly all the fish farms are Norwegian owned and very little money stays in the Scottish economy.
What was clear from the sabs work in Scotland is that seal populations have been devastated and that urgent action is required to defend the remaining seals from persecution. The team surveyed hundreds of miles of coastline, but there is much more to do.
On a more positive note, new sabs groups are forming in Scotland , spurred on by publicity about the seal cull, and if the Scottish sabs are all of the same calibre as the new member of the seals team , Scotland’s wildlife will be much safer soon.