A major blow against the secrecy that protects fish farmers from disclosing the truth about seal killings, has been struck today as The Scottish Information Commissioner ordered that information about seal killings, conducted under licence in Scotland, must be revealed. Previously, the Scottish Government had ensured that the information was kept from the public, but in a landmark rulings two appeals made by GAAIA, were up held.
OHAFF welcomes the decision which will enable a light to be shone into currently hidden corners of an industry that too often trades on its so-called sustainability, but which in reality shoots seals, pollutes the oceans and undermines wild salmon and sea trout populations with sea lice infestations.
The Scottish Information Commissioner issued the following statement:
Decisions published and press statement on website re Decisions 102/2015 & 103/2015
7 July 2015
The Commissioner has today (7 July 2015) issued two decisions on appeals made by the Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture (GAAIA) against the Scottish Ministers. Both relate to information about the shooting of seals under licence, similar information to that requested by GAAIA in 2012.
The cases find that information about seal killings should be disclosed. The Ministers argued it should not be disclosed because it would substantially prejudice public safety and, in particular, the safety of fish farm staff workers and their families. In considering the appeals, the Commissioner was required to consider whether the disclosure of information about seal shooting would, in itself, directly result in the harm claimed by Ministers, not whether seal campaigners are likely to protest at salmon farms and fisheries.
In both cases, the Commissioner asked Ministers to explain in detail the level of harm they anticipated would follow disclosure of the information, including consulting with the salmon farming industry.
In her earlier Decision (193/2012) on a GAAIA appeal, the Commissioner ordered the Ministers to disclose information about the numbers of seals killed at salmon farms. She acknowledged Ministers’ concerns about threats by seal campaigners to the health and safety of fish farm staff and their families. But she concluded there was insufficient evidence from Ministers that the act of disclosing the requested information would increase the likelihood of threats being made or acted on.
Decision 102/2015 Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture and the Scottish Ministers
The Decision considers two issues: information about the killing of seals at fish farms during 2014 and correspondence on the provision of seal killing statistics:
Information about seal killings
Ministers provided evidence and submissions about elevated levels of threat to salmon fisheries staff and their families they claimed would be the result of disclosing the information. The issues considered are set out in detail in the Decision Notice.
The Commissioner concluded there was insufficient evidence from Ministers of an increased threat to public safety if the information about seal shootings at salmon farms carried out under licence was disclosed. The Commissioner ordered the information be disclosed.
Correspondence about the provision of seal killing statistics
The Commissioner accepted that Ministers do not hold correspondence between the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation, Marine Harvest and any other salmon farming companies about threats to refuse to provide information about the number of seals killed in 2013 and 2014.
Decision 103/2015 Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture and the Scottish Ministers
This Decision considers a request for seal killing return forms from salmon farms for 2013 and 2014.
Again, the Ministers provided evidence and submissions to the Commissioner. The Commissioner notes, in particular, that one seal campaign organisation intends to launch a seal defence campaign in 2015 and this is already public. The Commissioner is, again, not satisfied that Ministers have demonstrated that the disclosure of the information would, or would be likely to prejudice substantially public safety.
Freedom of Information Officer
The Office of the Scottish Information Commissioner
Kinburn Castle, Doubledykes Road,
St Andrews, KY16 9DS