A MAJOR salmon producer has called off its controversial plans to cull seals at an Aberdeenshire harbour following clashes between marksmen and marine conservationists.
The Scottish Wild Salmon Company has said it will halt its shooting programme following mounting protest from conservation group Sea Shepherd, which was joined this week by members of the Hunt Saboteurs Association.
The development followed a second quayside stand-off, during which protesters in face masks and combat gear confronted marksmen in Gardenstown village, near Banff, Aberdeenshire.
But despite assurances from the company, protesters were refusing to leave the area on Tuesday night.
They fear the announcement that the shootings are to be cancelled is a ruse so they will leave and the cull can continue uninterrupted.
It was revealed on Tuesday that members of Sea Shepherd had arrived at Gardenstown to disrupt a planned programme of seal shootings.
Licensed marksmen have been employed to patrol the coastline and fire at animals that could threaten the firm’s nets.
Sea Shepherd - fresh from a campaign against whalers in Japan - said its team was prepared to form a human shield to protect the seals.
Today the Montrose based fishing company - also known as Usan Salmon Fisheries - stressed that its workers had complied fully with the terms of its licence and firearms legislation.
Director George Pullar said: “Our staff are being constantly stalked and harassed by group members.
“Today, on arrival at the pier, our law-abiding staff were faced by a large group of activists wearing face masks, knuckledusters and combat gear.
“Clearly, the intent was to intimidate. Surely such extremism has no place in modern Scotland. The police have been advised.”
He said the company had already taken several alternative steps to deter seals.
“Lethal methods are very much a last resort,” Mr Pullar said.
“To that end, in order to reduce tensions, we will remove all firearms from our operation and will continue dialogue with the Scottish Government involving the Sea Mammal Research Unit to garner support and direct assistance to further expand non-lethal measures.
Police were called to the harbour after a stand-off on Monday morning that prompted Sea Shepherd to call in reinforcements, including members of the Hunt Saboteurs Association, a worldwide organisation formed more than fifty years ago which specialises in direct action.
Officers warned a teenage marksman for alleged threatening behaviour, but no persons have been charged.
A force spokesman said: “A 17-year-old male has been dealt with following a complaint and the matter is now closed.”
Writing the group’s Facebook page last night, a spokeswoman for Sea Shepherd said the group had reason to believe the salmon producers had no intention of calling off the cull.
The statement read: “Sea Shepherd fully intends to remain in the area, protecting the seals, until the Scottish Wild Salmon Company confirms that hey have relinquished all their licences to kill seals in Scotland.”
It is understood no seals have been shot since environmentalists set up a base at Gardenstown on Friday.
This year, the Scottish Government granted consent for the killing of up to 239 grey seals and 24 common ones in the Moray Firth.