Mowi Scotland denies it wants to ‘gag’ activist

Scottish salmon producer Mowi has denied it wants to gag a campaigner by banning him from its fish farms, in a civil case heard at Oban Sheriff Court on 1 June.

Mowi Scotland Ltd is pursuing an interdict to prevent environmental activist Don Staniford coming within 15 metres of its fish farms.

Acting for the defender, Don Staniford, advocate Simon Crabb called for the “ridiculously extravagant” action to be dismissed.

“Mr Staniford is a journalist and carries out watchdog functions,” he said. “A picture tells a thousand words. Images do not lie.

“His source material informs mass media and welfare complaints.

“There is a necessity. There is a public interest. There is a genuinely held belief, which gives him right to investigate what he believes is unlawful practices.

“Mr Staniford is trying to expose unlawful conduct. He is there to protect the fish.

“It is not the case that journalists say ‘okay we will leave it up to the authorities’, especially with a vulnerable population. Wildlife do not have a voice.

“They require someone like Don Staniford to do that lawfully, which the law in Scotland allows him to do.

“The defender’s ability to inform the public depends on his access to the waters where the salmon farms are located.

“His lawful authority comes from his right to navigate the public waters and do any act that is incidental to that.

“Mowi have employed an excessive restriction on the freedom of navigation.

“Any presence has been passive and temporary. He does not attend in large numbers. He attends with journalists.

“Potentially we could have kayakers and yachters being told by Mowi to stay off the water and keep the cameras away.

“The pursuer in this case seeks to protect itself from reputational damage.”

Mr Crabb said installing cameras on the pens “would put the issue to bed”.

Acting for the pursuer, Mowi Scotland Ltd, Jonathan Barne KC said: “My learned friend is throwing everything at the court in the hope something sticks.”

He summed up Mowi’s argument: “We own the stuff and people should not be able to come onto it.

“We have eight individual incidents of where the defender has tethered his boat to the pursuer’s equipment and boarded.” Mr Staniford, he said, had also deployed a camera underwater.

“If there was a yacht in the Firth of Forth, he would be entitled to tether his boat to the yacht and board the yacht. That simply cannot be right.

“The public has a right of navigation to sea lochs and rivers. It gives them a right from a to b. It does not give them the right to every inch.

“There is no evidence an interdict would prevent the defender from navigating from A to B.

“Issues of proportionality or necessity do not arise, as there is a trespass, and may be a reasonable apprehension of trespass.

“We have a highly regulated industry,” Mr Barne said. “There is a voluntary code, managed by Marine Scotland, where operators publish monthly mortality rates.

“Having a camera affixed to some pens is going to be far less useful than the information that is already available.

“It is not for the pursuer to modify and pay for equipment in order to satisfy the defender’s curiosity.

“The pursuer is attempting to keep the defender off the equipment and a 15 metre allowance so there is not damage to himself or the equipment.

“The working environments can be potentially hazardous,” he said. “To have third parties gaining access, with safety protocols, is simply not acceptable.

“We are not seeking orders against the public. The public at large have not on numerous occasions boarded the equipment of the pursuer.

“We are not trying to gag what is said by Mr Staniford. That is not the reason for this, and it is certainly not accepted.”

In reply, Mr Crabb concluded: “He said Mowi’s intention is not to gag Mr Staniford. Whether they intend it or not, that is the outcome.”

Thanking the advocates, Sheriff Andrew Berry said: “I am going to reserve my decision so I can reflect on what I am told and submit a decision in writing.”

 

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