'Salmon Farming Kills' Campaign Leader Sued

A major aquaculture company hopes to muzzle the protest efforts of Canadian Don Staniford.
Taking a stand on farmed salmon: Aquaculture execs didn't take kindly to the protest efforts of Don Staniford. (Photo: Courtesy of Don Staniford.)
Jan 30, 2012· 1 MIN READ
Barry Estabrook, a two-time James-Beard-Award-winning journalist, is the author of "Pig Tales: An Omnivore's Quest for Sustainable Meat," and "Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit"

When it comes to shooting themselves in the feet, few industries are as adept as industrial aquaculture.

The most recent example is unfolding in a Vancouver, B. C., courtroom, where a subsidiary of Cermaq, a $1.7-billion fish farming conglomerate, whose major shareholder is the Norwegian government, is suing the scrappy environmental activist Don Staniford for defamation and making false statements. Mainstream Canada, a subsidiary of Cermaq, which filed the suit, is asking for $125,000 and seeking a permanent injunction that would forbid Staniford from speaking out against salmon farming.

Last year, the Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture, of which Staniford is the coordinator, launched a campaign called Salmon Farming Kills, which was modeled after the Smoking Kills effort. Staniford employed graphics that mimic cigarette packages, including warning labels that featured images of dead seals caught in salmon pens and juvenile salmon covered in sea lice, parasites that are potentially fatal to fish that can be spread by farmed salmon. The campaign also drew attention to research showing that farmed salmon pollutes the water and seafloor and spreads disease to wild populations.

Calling the court action a SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) meant to intimidate critics of salmon farming, Staniford said in an interview, “This is a case of the Norwegian government using the Canadian legal system to muzzle global criticism of salmon farming.” Staniford is a veteran of court battles. In 2009 he successfully appealed a lower court’s decision that he defamed Creative Salmon, another B. C. aquaculture company.

This is a case of the Norwegian government using the Canadian legal system to muzzle global criticism of salmon farming.

Laurie Jensen, a spokeswoman for Mainstream, referred questions to the company’s lawyer, who was unavailable, but in a press release, Mainstream described Staniford’s actions as “malicious and unsupported by facts or fairness” and a “prolonged and deliberate attack on our company and our employees.”

Staniford contends that his critiques were about salmon farming in general and that he never singled out Mainstream.

If Mainstream hoped to silence Staniford, the company was mistaken. Painting himself as a David taking on the multinational corporation’s Goliath, the unrepentant Staniford has used the trial to draw media attention to his anti-farmed-salmon crusade in both Canada and Norway. He blogs glibly about the court proceedings on his group’s website, www.gaaia.org. That site was taken down at the insistence of Mainstream in March 2011, but Staniford recently relaunched it. Fishermen’s organizations, environmental law groups, and hundreds of individuals have donated more than $50,000 for his defense.

Regardless of the eventual outcome, the suit has brought far more attention to environmental issues raised by open-water salmon aquaculture than Staniford’s pranksterish Salmon Farming Kills antics ever would have. “The salmon farming industry has forgotten the first rule of public relations,” Staniford said. “When you’re in a hole, stop digging.”