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A History of the fund by it's founder, John F. Robins

In October 1980, while a campaigner with Friends of the Earth, I engaged in a televised debate with a seal culler. Despite a total lack of scientific evidence to justify their claim that seal numbers adversely effected commercial fish catches, the pro-culling lobby fiercely defended the annual carnage during which thousands of days-old grey seal pups were slaughtered on the Orkney Islands north east of mainland Scotland.

A combination of activists standing between the rifles and the pups, public outrage at television film of seas turned red with innocent blood, and the collapse of the sealskin market, brought about the end of this mass destruction of the people of the sea.

Campaigners celebrated with a dram or two and moved on to the next issue. I went to work for The Scottish Anti-Vivisection Society (now Animal Concern) and campaigned against experiments on animals.

The British public did not forget about the plight of seals. International organisations raised vast sums of money in the United Kingdom to fund campaigns against seal culling in Canada, Norway, Russia and South Africa. British politicians were mobilised and quite rightly condemned other countries for their policy of killing seals. After all the Brits were the good guys, we had banned seal culling around our coasts.

However while attention inside Britain focused on factory farms and vivisection, Scottish seals continued to be persecuted in a secret slaughter carried out far away from the glare of local, far less international, publicity.

In January 1988 I followed up reports of seals being shot on the River Helmsdale in north-east Scotland. The Helmsdale River Board, claiming they were protecting salmon entering the river to spawn, had killed 20 seals. Locals, who helped me find some of the shot seals, told me that as many as two hundred seals were killed every year at nearby commercial salmon netting stations.

The publicity which this case generated resulted in other reports of seal shootings in Scotland. On the Mull of Kintyre a salmon netsman wiped out a colony of seals. On the island of Raasay, I photographed several carcasses of shot seals, washed ashore opposite a salmon farm. At St. Cyrus National Nature Reserve near Montrose, a salmon netsman who admitted shooting seals was found to be an Honorary Warden for the Nature Conservancy Council.

The one thing these cases had in common was that no British laws were being broken. As long as the correct calibre of bullet is used, anyone with a relevant firearms licence variation can shoot seals near any fishing or fish farming equipment at any time of the year. No proper records are kept of people who shoot seals, or of the number of seals shot each year. In 1993 one salmon netsman openly admitted to killing over 90 seals a year at just one harbour in Morayshire. With over three hundred fish farm sites, over one hundred netting stations and countless lobster fishing operations, I estimate that, at the very least, 5000 seals are shot annually around Scotland.

 

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