Expanding our monitoring of the North coast of Scotland and the Orkney Islands to prevent seal killing by salmon netting companies and fish farms.
Sea Shepherd UK’s campaign to defend Scotland’s iconic Common and Grey seals has over the past weeks covered various locations from Wick in the far north east of Scotland to the Naver River on the central north coast working primarily from various locations in the Thurso District.
Patrols were carried out both on land and by sea. Sea patrols were conducted with two small fast boats - Sea Shepherd UK’s new 38knot Humber destroyer RIB ‘Mermaid of Makaha’ launching from slipways near Dunnet Head and ‘Togs’ a privately owned 22knot Ocqueteau 645 operating from Stromness.
Monitoring the activities of three wild salmon netting companies continued through the end of their netting season and into early September until all three companies had removed their ‘fixed engine’ nets from the coastline and their seal killing marksmen no longer hunted seals along the coastline or took guns out in their fishing boats. Since the campaign began with land based patrols and a single coastal RIB ‘Joker’ patrolling Gamrie Bay from May 2014 our teams have followed the rifles of seal killing marksmen whenever they have been deployed and have ensured that not a single seal has been shot during any of our patrols – action by our team has included directly obstructing the gunmen of the Scottish Wild Salmon Company on a weekend when the company should not even be netting salmon and therefore had no excuse (even under their Marine Scotland permits) to be shooting seals to stop possible damage to netted fish.
Our teams discovered a number of issues; The illegal netting of wild salmon during the closed weekend period from 6pm each Friday until 6am the following Monday is clearly common - especially by the Scottish Wild Salmon Company (AKA: Usan Salmon Fisheries Ltd of Montrose) across all their netting stations up to Dunnet Bay & West Murkle on the north coast. Sea Shepherd’s land and boat crews have been collecting photographic and video evidence of this poaching of wild salmon during the closed weekend period and reporting this to Police Scotland and the Water Bailiffs as discovered. The pattern of regular weekend poaching of Wild Salmon by the Scottish Wild Salmon Company (SWSC) is also corroborated by the evidence recorded by members of the Hunt Saboteurs Association who have been operating regular patrols from Ethie Head, Lunan Bay up to Scurdie Ness lighthouse on the east coast.
Also witnessed and recorded during our monitoring patrols at West Murkle bay on the north coast are potential incidents of pollution by Scottish wild Salmon Company employees. On the 12th August 2014 our team recorded film footage which showed a crate, box or similar item being thrown from an SWSC boat Ethie Lass whilst it was moving fast from Dunnet bay towards Murkle Bay. This footage of possible dumping at sea, a potential crime under Part II of the 'Food and Environment Protection Act 1985' has been reported to Police Scotland who have referred the matter to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA).
Also witnessed and photographed was an incident on the 20th August where two employees of SWSC were observed having dug a hole just below the high tide mark on West Murkle beach adjacent to where a stream enters the bay. The two employees then tipped the contents of a large blue plastic crate into the hole before filling it back in with sand and smoothing off the area.
After discussing our observations with Police Scotland officers and under their advice our team returned three days later with digging tools and using our previous footage and photographs quickly located the position of the filled in hole and after re-digging the hole to a depth of around 24 inches came first upon the tail feathers of a bird. After a further hour of careful excavation our crew recovered from the hole the bodies of 21 fish of 6 different species along with one Cormorant whose tail feathers we had first discovered as we re-dug the hole. The majority of the fish recovered from the hole in the beach were of the dogfish family (a type of small shark). It was noticed that several older possibly re-filled filled holes were visible on West Murkle beach near the high water mark north of the stream.
The photographs of the SWSC employees digging the hole in the publicly accessible beach, emptying the crate into it then filling and covering over the hole along with Sea Shepherd UK’s video footage and photographs of the excavation of the same hole, the dead animals we excavated from that hole and along with several testimonies given to Police Scotland officers are together now being investigated by SEPA and by Marine Scotland. The possible offences which may have been committed in relation to burying marine bycatch recovered from nets already taken to shore (and therefore also qualifying as controlled commercial waste) include possible offences under the Control of Pollution Act 1974 (sections 3, 30F, 31 and 31A), the Animal By-Products Regulations 2005 and breaches of EU Regulation 1774/2002. Sea Shepherd UK awaits the developments of the investigations by Police Scotland, SEPA and Marine Scotland in relation to this incident.
Following the end of the Salmon netting season, our campaign crew stayed for a further period and ensured that the salmon netting companies had removed all their nets and ceased sending their marksmen on any further failed attempts to find and shoot Scottish seals. With the conclusion of several information gathering trips along the coast to the east and west from Thurso in preparation for the Seal Defence Campaign 2015, a small crew of four with just two vehicles and the vessels ‘Mermaid’ and ‘Togs’ moved the campaign quietly to the Orkney Islands and set up a new base of operations south of the main island.
Orkney is fortunately not blighted by wild salmon netting stations unlike around mainland Scotland where the majority of our campaign was conducted. However the Orkney Islands do have many fish farms run primarily by just two companies. In preparation for an expansion of the Seal Defence Campaign during 2015, the vessels Mermaid and Togs carried out sea patrols and reconnaissance daily to locate seal colonies and haul-out locations, to make observations of the many fish farms and their associated support vessels around the coastlines of Hoy, the Mainland (island), in Barra Sound, Long Hope and around all the shorelines surrounding Scapa Flow where we know from records and local reports that seals are at times shot by fish farm operators. Following information about Orkney Creel fishermen allegedly also shooting seals we also carried out reconnaissance to attempt to verify this information which resulted in one recently dead seal being located in the vicinity of creel fishing vessel operations.
When more favourable sea conditions allowed, the vessels Mermaid and Togs both made the long journey south out of Scapa flow around South Ronaldsay and up the East side of the Orkney Islands into Stronsay Firth and to the northern islands. The findings of these land and sea patrols add greatly to the significant information database which will make the Seal Defence Campaign of 2015 more effective and far more wide ranging than the campaign of 2014. One observation which was obvious to our crews is that the seals of Orkney seems to be tolerated to an extent by the fish farms as they are breeding (albeit in small numbers) in relative close proximity to fish farms whereas the seals of the coastline of mainland Scotland near salmon netting stations are far more heavily persecuted.
Sea Shepherd UK’s Scottish Seal Campaign of 2014 has now ended with our RIB Joker leaving Gardenstown (Aberdeenshire) for patrols around Wales, the privately owned vessel Togs remains in the North of Scotland while our new fast RIB Mermaid has moved to the West coast of Scotland.
Sea Shepherd UK’s crew and all the Sea Shepherd volunteers who joined us undoubtedly have saved the lives of many Scottish seals (and incidentally also some Salmon which would have been illegally caught) during this year’s campaign. The campaign will continue and expand from the Western Isles up to Shetland and down the East coast next year and indeed will continue every year until Scotland’s seals are given the full legal protection and active monitoring by the respective authorities they deserve.