Here’s a refreshing news item with real relevance to the livestock industry.

The Ninth Circuit Court has reversed a district court ruling and declared the notorious “conservation” group Sea Shepherd to be, in the words of the court, “pirates.”

Sea Shepherd, founded by the infamous eco-agitator Paul Watson, calls itself “the world’s leading direct-action conservation non-profit.” Despite its noble mission, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski said the group’s “aggressive and high-profile attacks” on Japan’s whaling fleet endangered lives, ordering them to stop.

“You don't need a peg leg or an eye patch to be called a pirate,” Judge Kozinski wrote. “When you ram ships; hurl glass containers of acid; drag metal-reinforced ropes in the water to damage propellers and rudders; launch smoke bombs and flares with hooks; and point high-powered lasers at other ships, you are, without a doubt, a pirate, no matter how high-minded you believe your purpose to be.”

Sea Shepherd has for many years harassed Japanese whaling ships, attempting to disrupt that country’s annual “hunt.”

Okay, let’s be fair: The Japanese government, despite declining domestic demand for whale meat and rising outrage among its own people, continues to insist that the whaling ships are engaged in “research” and that they need to slaughter whales to better understand their adaptations to the changing marine environment.

Or some such load of you-know-what.

That stance has permitted Japan an exemption from the international ban on whaling, but the whales that Japanese ships slaughter are processed and packaged for consumption, not dissected for research. It’s one of the more myopic policy positions you’ll find anywhere on Earth, continuing to defy growing global criticism in order to produce a food item—albeit one that traditionally was a national staple—that its own people no longer want or consume.

Japan’s fisheries minister, Yoshimasa Hayashi, even rolled out the tired argument that whaling is part of “Japanese culture” and that the nation will never give up hunting the animals.

“Japan is an island nation surrounded by the sea, so taking some good protein from the ocean is very important,” Hayashi told Agence-France Presse. “For food security I think it’s very important.”

Right. Keep telling yourself that it’s all about taking “good protein” from the ocean. Nobody’s buying that line any more than Japanese consumers are bringing home the blubber on their weekly shopping trips.

Condemning violence

The more important takeaway here is the Circuit Court’s ruling putting a label on the violence perpetrated by Sea Shepherd (and several other animal rights extremist groups). U.S. District Judge Richard Jones in Seattle had sided with the protesters, tossing out a lawsuit filed by Japanese whalers seeking a halt to the group’s aggressive tactics (which were highlighted on the Animal Planet reality show “Whale Wars.”) Judge Jones ruled the protest tactics were nonviolent because they targeted equipment and ships, rather than people.

In overturning the district court ruling, Judge Kozinski wrote that, “The activities that Cetacean [the Japanese whaling ship] alleges Sea Shepherd has engaged in are clear instances of violent acts for private ends, the very embodiment of piracy.”

That puts a name to Sea Shepherd’s tactics and underlines again that when it comes to animal rights activists, the ends do not justify the means.

Vandalizing research facilities, sabotaging meat plants and equipment, intimidating and threatening one’s opponents with physical harm can no longer be protected as free speech. It’s not. It’s violence, and that’s never acceptable.

Now, it’s no longer legal, either.

By the way, Sea Shepherd is pushing a petition to stop the extradition of Paul Watson to respond to a pair of Interpol warrants issued for his arrest at the request of Costa Rica and Japan.

“Captain Watson is a world-renowned and highly respected leader in environmental issues,” the petition states.

And he’s also a pirate engaged in “clear instances of violent acts for private ends, the very embodiment of piracy.”

Finally, the legal system has condemned Sea Shepherd, and by extension, the other animal extremists hiding behind their self-styled “morality.”

It’s time to hang ’em from the yardarm.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.