CONSERVATIONISTS campaigning to prevent seals being shot by commercial salmon fishermen on the Banffshire Coast have challenged the Scottish Wild Salmon Company (SWSC) to attend a public meeting in Gardenstown.
SSUK activists have been stationed in the former fishing town Gardenstown, where Montrose-based SWSC, also known as Usan Fisheries, operates netting stations, since before Easter.
SSUK trustee Jesse Treverton told the ‘Banffshire Journal’: "Sea Shepherd is calling Usan to a public meeting with the town’s people of Gardestown and Crovie about the seal slaughter in Gamrie Bay.
"We would like to move the debate firmly into the public domain and give local people the opportunity to have their say on the issue.
"There is an important issue which Usan needs to explain publicly: the company recently withdrew an application for a Marine Scotland licence to cull seals in the Yhan Estuary not more than 40 miles from Gardenstown.
"Under pressure from protesters all over the world who abhor the practise of shooting an animal which has protected status, they backed down in that instance and very publicly stated they would rely on non-lethal methods to protect their nets there by using acoustic deterrent devices (ADDs).
"That clearly implies that the company believes ADDs are effective and if that is the case, they no longer need a licence to shoot seals anywhere, including Gardenstown and Crovie."
"If that is the case, SWSC and their director George Pullar are morally bound to put the rifles away once and for all and to hand their seal-shooting licences back for every netting station which they operate around Scotland."
After a series of confrontations between activists and salmon fishermen, Mr Pullar last week suspended the use of firearms in Gamrie Bay, but the SSUK team insists it will be staying in Gardenstown.
"We’re bringing in another of our fast patrol boats patrol vessel to support Sea Shepherd and we’ll be here until everybody can be certain that no more seals will be shot in this beautiful part of the world," said Mr Treverton.
Members of the radical Hunt Saboteurs Association, meanwhile, whose presence is understood to have disturbed local people, have left the area at the request of SSUK’s team leaders in the aftermath of a round-table meeting last Friday, chaired by Troup councillor Hamish Partridge.
He said a meeting, held at Banff police station on Friday afternoon, which involved members of the local community council, Police Scotland, SSUK and Usan Salmon Fisheries, to discuss the stand-off had been "very productive".
"It was a very productive meeting which found some common ground between all parties and a way forward on a number of issues," said Councillor Partridge.
"I agreed to chair the meeting as I have no brief for either side in the debate and my focus was on the people and community of Gardenstown and allowing residents to get on with their day-to-day business with the minimum of disruption.
"I’m pleased that SSUK agreed to ask the Hunt Saboteurs Association to step down their activities, which should help to remove some local tensions.
"All parties have agreed to keep the dialogue going and I hope a meeting can be arranged again in the near future to continue the progress."