A new U.S. rule published last month explicitly states that salmon farms must stop killing seals in order to export to the lucrative U.S. market (read more via "Scottish salmon has five years to cut seal deaths before NOAA action" and "Five-Year stay of execution for Scottish salmon's serial killers - US outlaws killing of marine mammals by 2022").
"The regulatory definition of a commercial fishing operation includes aquaculture, and National Marine Fisheries Service will classify foreign aquaculture operations considering both intentional and incidental mortality and serious injury according to the requirements of this rule," stated the U.S. Federal Register on 15 August 2016. "When making comparability finding determinations for farmed salmon imports, the National Marine Fisheries Service will evaluate measures to reduce interactions, prohibit intentional, and reduce incidental mortality and serious injury of marine mammals in foreign aquaculture operations as compared to the U.S. standards for aquaculture facilities (e.g., use of predator nets and the prohibition on intentional killing).
Read the new U.S. rule in full via Fish and Fish Product Import Provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act
Credit must go to animal welfare and environmental groups who have been pushing for a U.S. ban for over a decade. The Federal Register's Fish and Fish Product Import Provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (15 August 2016) states under 'Petition to Ban Imports':
Read correspondence with the U.S. Department of Commerce since 2011 online here
Back in 2005, a legal opinion secured by the National Environmental Trust (following the slaughter of seals by Marine Harvest Scotland) first raised the issue of a U.S. ban on imports of farmed salmon sourced from seal-killing salmon farms. The Sunday Express reported in December 2005:
In 2012, The Sunday Express reported:
John Robins, Secretary of Save Our Seals Fund in Scotland, said: "We have asked the US Department of Commerce to use existing US marine mammal protection laws to ban the import of salmon from Scottish floating factory fish farms. I hope the US Government can force Scottish salmon farmers to install seal exclusion nets, something the Scottish Government and the RSPCA have disgracefully failed to do. When you buy Scottish farmed salmon, even RSPCA-endorsed Scottish farmed salmon, you pay for bullets to shoot seals.”
The Sunday Herald reported in September 2016:
"Campaigners also point out that the practice of killing seals to protect fish stocks is likely to fall foul of tough new laws on imports being introduced by the US. That could damage the £213 million market for Scottish salmon, they warn......
Huyton pointed out that the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had last month agreed new rules to limit the import of fish. To comply with US standards, nations that want to sell to the US must have a programme that “prohibits the intentional killing or serious injury of marine mammals in all fisheries”.
As Scotland officially licences the shooting of seals it was hard to see how it could comply, Huyton argued. The US is the top market for Scottish salmon, with exports of 41,000 tonnes worth over £213m in 2014.
Continued seal killing would damage Scotland’s image abroad, he warned. “With the world now watching, inaction is simply not an option if Scotland’s reputation as a country that respects and celebrates its wildlife is to be preserved.”
Sarah Dolman, senior policy manager of Whale and Dolphin Conservation, described seal shooting as “Scotland’s bloody marine secret”. It was “proven to be cruel and it is unnecessary,” she said. “The Scottish government should stop this inhumane activity.”
Don Staniford, an anti-fish farming campaigner from the Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture, called on fish farmers to install anti-predator nets around salmon cages, rather than reaching for guns. “Scottish salmon is shamefully drenched in the blood of dead seals,” he said.
The US was likely to erect trade barriers to keep out Scottish salmon, he warned. “Instead of shooting themselves in the wallet, Scottish salmon farmers should hang up their guns and stop killing seals.”
The fish farming industry pointed out that it was the only fisheries sector that was now promising to reduce the number of seals shot to zero. “The Scottish salmon farming industry takes very seriously its responsibility to animal welfare,” said the chief executive of Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation, Scott Landsburgh.
“It is our ambition to have enough techniques throughout the whole industry to avoid the need to shoot seals. In other words, it is our clear intention to reduce the number of seals shot to zero.”
The industry was looking at the potential impact of the new US rules, Landsburgh added. “Unlike us, it should be noted there are other sectors within Scotland shooting seals that don’t appear to have a public commitment to getting to zero.”
Please note however that the statement above by the Scottish Salmon Producers' Organisation regarding "getting to zero" is misleading at best. In fact, the killing of seals at salmon farms in Scotland is increasing not decreasing with 80 seals killed in 2014 compared to 95 in 2015. Moreover, of the 24 seals reported killed thus far in 2016 (only Q1 data is available online) all but one were killed by salmon farms.
The Herald reported in October 2015:
Sadly, importing countries will have a five-year interim exemption period (starting on 1 January 2017) to implement a regulatory program that "prohibits the intentional killing or serious injury of marine mammals in all fisheries". That means that salmon farmers have until 1 January 2022 to stop killing seals or they will lose access to the U.S. market.
"Scottish salmon farmers must bite the bullet and stop shooting seals or go bankrupt losing over £200 million per year in exports," said Don Staniford, Director of the Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture in a press release (6 September). "Scotland's serial seal killers have been served notice and should hang their heads in shame on death row until 2022. Consumers around the world should immediately boycott farmed salmon sourced from lethal salmon farms. Cheap and nasty farmed salmon - to steal Donald Trump's catchphrase on The Apprentice - you're fired!"
For Scottish and Canadian salmon farmers in particular that would be a significant chunk of their exports. According to Canadian Aquaculture, more than 85% of Canadian aquaculture production is exported – the largest export market is the United States: "The United States is Canada’s major export market for farmed salmon - accounting for 93% of Canada’s farmed salmon exports in 2006. In 2006, the US imported 78,733 tonnes of Canadian farmed salmon worth $505 million."
The U.S. is the largest export market for Scottish farmed salmon accounting for 30,000 tonnes in 2015 at a value of £215 million in 2014. With 186,508 tonnes of Scottish farmed forecast to be produced in 2015 that means one in six or 16% of Scottish farmed salmon is exported to the U.S. Farmed salmon is the largest food export from Scotland, accounting for around 40% of total value and in 2014 it also topped the list of UK food exports.
"The new U.S. rule is a body blow for Scottish salmon which is shamefully drenched in the blood of dozens of dead seals," said Staniford. "In the spirit of the US/UK's 'special relationship', perhaps Scotland's lethal marksmen could be re-deployed on the new Mexican wall or on one of Trump's Scottish golf courses to deter ramblers?"
Watch shocking video footage of a marksman in Scotland shooting seals (warning: graphic content) online here
Scotland is not the only country killing marine mammals deliberately. For example, official figures published by the Canadian Government for Q4 2015 (October-December) reveal that 15 sea lions and 2 seals were killed at just two salmon farms in British Columbia:
GAAIA's letter to the U.S. Department of Commerce of August 2015 also detailed other fatalities at salmon farms in Chile, Australia, New Zealand as well as Canada:
"In addition to the killing of seals in Scotland, there are ongoing kills in Canada, Chile, New Zealand and Australia for example. In Australia, seals have been killed on salmon farms in Tasmania (read more via "Tasmania's salmon trade casts deadly net"). Environment Tasmania report that: "As of June 2013, at least 144 protected seals have died as a result of fish farming in just four years". The Tasmanian Times reported in July 2015: "the Tasmanian Government seal management strategy has resulted in normally protected seals being deliberately killed with Government approval".
In New Zealand, dolphins and seals have been recently been reported killed in salmon farms in the Marlborough Sounds (read more via "Dolphins die on NZ King Salmon farms"). In Chile, a photo of salmon farmers killing a sea lion attracted the condemnation of both the Chilean Government and salmon farming industry itself in July 2015. Sernapesca filed a formal complaint for animal abuse following the identification of the salmon farming company responsible (read more via "Sernapesca files formal complaint over salmon farm workers’ animal abuse"). In Canada, data on mortalities at salmon farms in British Columbia is routinely published online."
Meanwhile along the West Coast of Scotland there are unconfirmed reports of seals and whales (a humpback whale was killed in a salmon farm off the Isle of Mull in 2014) leaping for joy and singing the Star-Spangled Banner.
In Shetland and Orkney, hotspots for seal killing, tourists spotted seals waving the American flag. And in British Columbia (where 15 California Sea Lions were killed at a Cermaq-operated salmon farm in the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve between October and December 2015) sea lions were caught doing a Happy Feet dance.
"The 1st January 2022 is a date for all marine mammals to put in their diaries," concluded Staniford. "Marine mammals around the world voice a seal of approval to their very own Independence Day."
Read more news via:
More background via GAAIA's press releases:
"Closing the Net On 'Seal-Friendly' Scottish Salmon" (29 December 2015)
"Scottish Salmon Blinded by Seal Killing" (29 November 2015)
"Stop Shooting Seals for Salmon Meals" (30 October 2015)
"Scottish Salmon's Seal Killers Named & Shamed!" (2 December 2012)