Fish farm sues critic for defamation

Canadian activist penned scathing press releases in June

Posted: Friday, July 15, 2005

A British Columbia fish farm has slapped a defamation lawsuit on a longtime Canadian fish farm critic who complained about alleged corporate lies and contamination.

The activist, Don Staniford, wrote a flurry of stinging press releases about the Tofino, British Columbia-based Creative Salmon, Ltd. in late June. Creative Salmon struck back with the lawsuit last week, specifying multiple court damages, special costs and interest.

"I'm just tired of all these false claims," said Spencer Evans, Creative Salmon's general manager, on Thursday.

The case has attracted some interest in Alaska, where fishermen, regulators and politicians have spoken out about pollution and other fish farm woes.

"I don't see it having a chilling effect of people being critical, as long as they base it on factual data," said Laura Fleming, public-relations director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

Staniford is known as a "tireless critic" of the salmon farming industry, Fleming said.

She said the case is a reminder for people to be careful about what they say. "Shooting from the hip doesn't really help our (wild) fish industry," she said.

Staniford could not be reached for comment Thursday. Calls to the environmental group that issued the press releases, The Friends of Clayoquot Sound, were not answered.

Staniford wrote his press releases after Creative Salmon had shut down its Clayoquot Sound-based operation over potential fungicide contamination.

In a June 24 press release, Staniford said that if the contamination was confirmed, "this blows out of the water Creative's claims to be 'organic' and chemical free."

One fish at the factory tested positive for the fungicide, called malachite green, which has contaminated fish at other British Columbia farms, according to Evans.

He believes the test may have been an error. "All subsequent tests (of other fish) were negative."

On June 27, Staniford issued another press release stating that the company was exposed as a "liar" by public records that showed the company had used nearly a quarter of a ton of antibiotics at its Clayoquot Sound farms in 2004.

The company claims on its Web site that the fish it sells have never been fed antibiotics and that the company has been "antibiotic free" since October 17, 2001.

"I think (Staniford) just assumed that we were feeding it to production fish," Evans said.

Evans said Thursday that the company does not use antibiotics on its production fish, but occasionally doses brood fish with antibiotics when they are harmed by handling.

The company raises indigenous Chinook salmon at its six farms in Clayoquot Sound. It is owned by a group of Canadian and Japanese investors.

The company is attempting to get organic certification for its farms.

Evans told the Ha-Shilth-Sa newspaper, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, in 2004 that fish escapees were not a significant problem because they were native species, only three generations from being wild.

Alaska fishermen continue to have grave fears, though, about the proliferation of salmon farms in British Columbia, said Mark Vinsel, executive director of the United Fishermen of Alaska.

"Some fish farmers have made progress in eliminating the use of antibiotics," Vinsel said.

"But unfortunately, there is no way any of them can eliminate from the ocean the hundreds of thousands of escaped nonindigenous Atlantic salmon that they have introduced into the North Pacific, or the sea lice that proliferate near their pens and become parasites on wild fish," he said.

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at

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