Of Fish and Foe
A surprising look at contemporary eco-activism on the Scottish Seas
The Pullars are one of the last families using traditional methods to fish for wild Atlantic salmon off the coast of Scotland. When these methods involve killing seals, the salmon’s natural predators, conflict erupts. Animal activist groups Sea Shepherd and Hunt Saboteurs oppose the Pullars at every turn, despite the legality of the fishermen’s actions and the consequences to their livelihood. Challenging preconceptions, this ambiguous doc puts modern environmentalism under the microscope.
“This is a fishing village, always has been. This is one of the oldest salmon netting stations in Scotland. This is Scotland's heritage. Would you like to see that going down the drain?” Despite John Pullar’s attempt to defend his living and explain his family’s position, Sea Shepherd and international animal protection agency Hunt Saboteurs continue to oppose the Pullars, filming their every move to gain support for their cause across social media.
As it transpires, and contrary to what the activists believe, the Pullars are not at all the brutal murderers nor the animal haters they are made out to be online. Jessie affirms that “one of the guys in the boat there, when a sea bird is caught in his net. He likes to take the wings off it alive and throw it back”. Her loyal sidekick Giant goes as far as cutting the fishermen’s nets to save birds who have become entangled. “That's criminal damage”, states Kevin Pullar when he sees what they have done. “That was a razorbill. You can get it out other ways without damaging the net.” Sure enough, Kevin and his brother continually save birds wherever possible, freeing them with skilled hands while keeping their nets in-tact.
“If the seal population is out of control and everything is out of kilter, then surely we are responsible to do something about it”, believes John Pullar. “We can't just let nature take its course, or something is going to be wiped out. The salmon will be wiped out. Because nothing is eating the seals. A few orcas. That's it.”
A further point of contention between the Pullars and their opposition are the leader nets that ensure the salmon slip inside, which must be removed over the weekend by law. When harsh weather prevents the fishermen from sailing out to the nets, however, they can legitimately remove the leaders at a safer time. Rather suspiciously, the water bailiff who patrols the area has been forcefully removing the leaders when he sees fit, slashing through the Pullars’ nets. When the Pullars realise that “Sea Shepherd already had this on their Facebook”, they can only conclude that “for them to know before I knew, it says a lot about the bailiff's actions up here. They're obviously working in cahoots with them, together with them”.
“It just confirms what we've thought this season”, says John Pullar, “that the Esk District Fishery Board clerk has a tie up with the Hunt Saboteurs. I think they're communicating between themselves. They've got a common enemy as they see it and that's us. The whole thing stinks of corruption.”
Hot Docs - Official Selection
Doc NYC - Official Selection
Glasgow Film Festival - Official Selection