VANCOUVER — Don Staniford has fought many battles in his 15 years of opposing salmon farming, from his days as a master of environmental science student in England to lobbying against farmed Atlantic salmon on British Columbia’s Coast.
On Jan. 16, he’ll confront his latest challenge: a defamation lawsuit launched against him by Mainstream Canada, B.C.’s second largest farmed-salmon producer and the subsidiary of a Norwegian-based fish-farming behemoth.
It’s a battle he says he’ll fight until the bitter end.
“This is about justice for wild salmon and freedom of speech,” he said Sunday. “I think the Norwegian government (the largest shareholder in Mainstream’s parent company) has made a fatal error here.”
Mainstream’s lawsuit argues that Staniford’s Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture campaign uses “defamatory and false statements” intended to damage the salmon-farming industry and curb the World Wildlife Fund’s pending certification for farmed salmon.
“The fact that they’re suing me in the first place speaks volumes about the GAIAA campaign,” said Staniford.
The statement of claim, filed in B.C. Supreme Court on July 15, 2011, focuses on Staniford’s use of anti-fish farm graphics that mimic health warnings on cigarette packages.
For the British-born wild-salmon crusader, however, the parallel between the tobacco and fish-farming industries is sound.
“Some of the actions of the tobacco industry over the last 30 years have been to smear the science and deny the scientific impacts of smoking,” he said. “The salmon-farming industry has pursued the same tactics.”
The lawsuit seeks a permanent injunction preventing Staniford from writing, printing or broadcasting future criticism of the international company.
The potential threats posed by farmed salmon were among the many contentious debates at the recently concluded Cohen Commission, a federal inquiry into the decline of sockeye salmon. Anti-fish farming activists and some scientists argued salmon in fish farms are to blame for the dwindling sockeye stocks, both by communicating new diseases and becoming a breeding ground for sea lice.
Fish-farm operators deny these allegations, saying their product is safe, environmentally sound, closely regulated and has no impact on the wider ocean ecosystem.
Staniford said the lawsuit could be a watershed moment for B.C.’s beleaguered wild salmon stocks.
“People have to ask the question: Do you want wild salmon, the icon for British Columbia, or do you want farmed Atlantic salmon, controlled by a foreign corporation?”
The trial begins Jan. 16.