Scottish salmon exports face US ban for cruelty to seals

US ban

Scottish-farmed salmon, worth £2bn to Scotland’s economy, could face a US ban unless ministers table urgent anti-cruelty legislation to protect marine life.

The US is one of the largest purchasers of the fish cultivated in our lochs and coastal waters, with exports worth up to £200m a year.

Time is running out, however, for the Scottish government to prove that new higher standards of aquaculture welfare are on the statute book and being enforced by March 2021.

Experts claim failure to meet the US deadline could see the door shut on Scottish salmon as early as January 2022.

The warning comes only days after America imposed swingeing 25% tariffs on Scotch whisky and cashmere as part of an ongoing trade war with the European Union, potentially imperilling hundreds of jobs.

At the heart of the dispute are the ear-splitting acoustic blasts, which are among the measures used by salmon farmers to keep seals away from their stocks.

However, they are so powerful that they damage the hearing of many sea mammals and block access to their breeding grounds.

The US has banned such acoustic deterrent devices (ADDs) and is set to outlaw any imports that rely on them as part of their farm-to-fork journey. Third-party countries have been handed a deadline of March 2021 to prove that their laws match up to the American Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).

But the Scottish government has still not grasped the imminent risk this poses to US salmon exports, it is claimed.

The problem with ADDs

New Jersey environmental lawyer Allen Sragow said: “Scotland appears unaware of the depth of the threat to the salmon industry. A recent report from the Scottish parliament expressed concern that ‘Scotland may lose access to a lucrative market for its salmon if it continues to shoot seals that endanger stocks’.

“In fact, Scotland could completely ban shooting and still be locked out of the US market just by the use of ADDs that cause hearing damage. For Scotland, the path to compliance requires brand new legislation and enforcement procedures that will likely have to be enacted immediately.”

A possible solution lies in innovative technology developed at St Andrews University, which delivers a harmless but effective and targeted acoustic pulse that merely startles seals.

However, the academic spin-out company behind the devices, Genuswave, admits it will struggle to scale up production to meet demand if the US authorities stick to their red line.

Its special projects manager Ewan Chirnside said: “Many in the industry are not facing up to the threat. Our information is that the Americans mean business and there could be a very sharp stop to all Scottish salmon exports.

“Just as much as we don’t want to eat their chlorinated chicken, they don’t want to eat our salmon where they consider seals to have been hurt or shot. Nobody should be expecting any favours from the Trump administration as tariffs prove. We believe the Scottish government needs to be offering the stimulus to the industry to face up to the problem.”

Preventing a US ban

Scottish salmon is the UK’s most lucrative food export. In the first six months of 2019, 47,000 tons worth £319m were sold abroad to 47 countries. France was the biggest importer at £109m, but America was second with £97m — 30% of the market.

Hamish Macdonell, director of strategic engagement for the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation, insisted that a way would be found to satisfy US laws.

He said: “The Scottish salmon farming sector is very aware of the MMPA and has been working closely with the UK and Scottish governments and the American authorities for some time now.

“We are confident that everything necessary will be in place well before the 2022 deadline to ensure Scottish exports continue to this most important of markets.

“It is not clear whether acoustic seal scarers will come under the provisions of the MMPA, but these devices represent just one of many methods farmers use to keep seals away from farms.

“Scotland’s salmon farmers have also invested significant sums in new anti-seal nets as well as seal blinds and other measures to keep our fish safe from seals and other predators.”

The Scottish government said: “The US market for farmed salmon is extremely important to Scotland. We are regularly engaging with the UK government, the EU, other salmon producing nations and US officials to discuss the act.”

This week Scottish trade minister Ivan McKee will meet US trade representatives in a bid to prove Scotland is “open” after Brexit.

This article was originally published as Scottish salmon exports face US ban for “cruelty” to seals at The Times on 20/10/2019.

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