Cermaq's Clusterfuck

The ‘Salmon Farming Kills’ lawsuit is now entering the final week with only the closing arguments to come (today is Day 17 in the scheduled 20 day trial). 

David Sutherland, legal counsel for the defendant Don Staniford, closed his case yesterday (6 February) at Noon after Cermaq’s lawyer David Wotherspoon ended his cross-examination of Mr. Staniford.  This morning (7 February) at 10am, lawyers for Cermaq present their final case to Justice Elaine Adair (courtroom #52 - Hornby/Nelson St. entrance).  Tomorrow (8 February), the defendant’s case will be presented (Day 18).  Thursday (9 February) could see the trial close early on Day 19 – with Justice Adair expected to make a final ruling over the Summer.

As PR blunders go, Cermaq’s decision to carry on with this lawsuit must rank up there with some of the biggest clusterfucks of military history including the Iraq War and the Vietnam War (note that 'clusterfuck' is a: "Military term for an operation in which multiple things have gone wrong. Related to "SNAFU" (Situation Normal, All Fucked Up") and "FUBAR" (Fucked Up Beyond All Repair)").  More classically, Shakespeare coined the phrase ‘to hoist oneself up by your petard’ (petard literally meaning a ‘bomb’ or ‘mine’) in his tragedy 'Hamlet'. 


Cermaq’s reckless and self-destructive decision to pursue this lawsuit has not only shot themselves in the foot and backfired badly but it has also thrust the entire Norwegian-owned salmon farming industry into the limelight.  The unfolding unmitigated PR disaster has all the elements of a Shakespearean tragedy, slapstick farce and comedy in equal measure. 

By launching this SLAPP suit, Cermaq have brought global public attention and the international media spotlight on the salmon farming industry.  Norwegian TV (TV2) broadcast the third news report in as many weeks on the lawsuit on Sunday (5 February) – with a Norwegian law professor quoted as saying that Cermaq’s case was “very thin”. 

Watch Cermaq’s PR flak Lise Bergan and Cermaq’s lawyer David Wotherspoon blowing smoke – online here  
In the United Kingdom, The Sunday Times newspaper also featured the lawsuit (5 February) with a Scottish news agency picking up the story yesterday (6 February) via ‘Anti-fish farming campaigner to land on Scottish shores.’

 This week a Swedish fly-fishing magazine - Fiske Journalen - published the offending cigarette packets and featured the lawsuit in an article headlined ‘David Vs. Goliath.’
Writing in The Common Sense Canadian, Damien Gillis wrote in an article ‘Bay Boy Salmon Activists Teaming Up in Norway’ (3 February):
“The Norwegian salmon farming industry got a lesson in the old adage, "be careful what you wish for" this week when it learned of industry critic Don Staniford's next job.  The British-born, globe-trotting salmon activist announced on his blog yesterday that following his scheduled deportation from Canada later this month he will be heading to Norway to work with that country's leading environmentalist bad boy, Kurt Oddekalv, head of the Green Warriors of Norway.”
The ‘Salmon Farming Kills’ campaign is also going viral on Facebook and donations via Go Fund Me leapt like a wild salmon over $44,000.   
Day 15 (3 February) saw the defendant Don Staniford continue his ‘examination in chief’ questioned by his lawyer David Sutherland – and then start his cross-examination by Cermaq’s lawyer David Wotherspoon.  The latter sparked a series of surreal and heated exchanges which continued into Day 16 (6 February). 
Mr. Wotherspoon and Mr. Staniford had sparred previously during two ‘Examination for Discovery’ sessions in September and December 2011.  In open court, however, the gloves were well and truly off and the packed gallery witnessed some bloody and brutal exchanges. 

“Would you consider your response to me to be respectful?” asked Mr. Wotherspoon in his first question.  “I said your letter of the 18 March got the respect that it deserved.  So your letter was so thoroughly disrespectful that you got the reply in terms of the finger that it warranted,” replied Mr. Staniford.

“I replied in a manner that I saw fitting,” added Mr. Staniford as Mr. Wotherspoon reiterated his question. 
“That’s a cartoon image of Mary Ellen Walling,” said Mr. Staniford in response to a document – “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest and the Girl Who Played with Fire” – being marked as an exhibit. 
“And she’s in bed with a number of people, correct?” asked Mr. Wotherspoon.
“Yes, I think she’s in bed with Dr. Dick Beamish from DFO, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Dr. Laura Richards, Stewart Johnson and the Queen.  And there’s a couple of legs sticking out,” replied Mr. Staniford.


“And you made a comment about those legs on your Facebook page – do you remember that the comment was?” asked Mr. Wotherspoon. 
“I think I mentioned that potentially the legs – one of the pair of legs could belong to Monica Lewinsky,” replied Mr. Staniford. 

“Is that respectful to these people?” asked Mr. Wotherspoon now turning to the MOD Squad cartoon.

“We live in a democracy still,” replied Mr. Staniford.  “Under Stephen Harper it’s still thankfully a democracy.  And free speech and different divergent views are allowed.  And I think it is fair to criticize and lampoon and spoof public figures.  These are all public figures.  Darth Vader was a public figure.  John Fredriksen, the owner of Marine Harvest, he’s the 72nd richest man in the world.  He’s the owner of the largest salmon farming company in the world and in British Columbia.  Gail Shea is a public figure.  Geir Isaksen was the CEO of a state-owned company.  Again, a public figure.  Mary Ellen Walling is in the public domain as a propaganda spin doctor for the salmon farming industry.  And Clare Backman is again a public figure.  So I think it is fair and reasonable to be able to, in this modern society, to criticize public figures and lampoon them.  And I’m a very big fan of zombie film, you know.”
“Would you agree with me, Mr. Staniford, that your comments of Ms. Brunt and Ms. Walling are disrespectful of them?” asked Mr. Wotherspoon now turning to the issue of the ‘Fat Bottomed Girls.’

“I agree that some people might find them distasteful,” replied Mr. Staniford.  “And in relation to the consumption of farmed salmon, then this lawsuit is all about consumption advisories and cancer risk about consumption of farmed salmon.  These two people, Mary Ellen Walling and Leanne Brunt, are executives and proponents of big aquaculture, just like the fat cats pictures from the big tobacco lawsuit.  So I think it’s fair to draw an analogy in a very spoof lampooning manner.  And I think the image speaks for itself – it’s a very beautiful, complimentary image.  If you look at the lyrics to the Queen hit, then it’s very complimentary.”
“You don’t care about Ms. Walling’s feelings as a result of being referred to as a fat bottomed girl, do you?” asked Mr. Wotherspoon.    
“I think somebody who promotes farmed salmon as free of contaminants as she does in the BC Salmon Facts adverts, and markets a cancer contaminated product as healthy, and pushes those adverts on pregnant women, I find that thoroughly distasteful and nauseating,” replied Mr. Staniford.  “And I think it’s legitimate to criticize a person for those views.”
“So you don’t care about her feelings – is that what you’re saying?” asked Mr. Wotherspoon.
“Corporations don’t have feelings,” replied Mr. Staniford.
“I’m talking about Ms. Walling,” said Mr. Wotherspoon.  “Is she a corporation?  She’s not a corporation?”
“She represents the BC Salmon Farmers Association whose membership includes the plaintiff, Marine Harvest, Grieg, EWOS, Creative Salmon and lots of other supplier companies,” replied Mr. Staniford.
“Do you care about Ms. Walling’s feeling and whether or not they’ve been hurt by your publication referring to her as a fat bottomed girl?” asked Mr. Wotherspoon who is now developing a fettish for fat bottomed girls.
“I think she should be flattered that I compare here to the fat bottomed girl in this picture from the Queen album,” replied Mr. Staniford who was a big Queen fan growing up in Liverpool (where there were plenty of fat bottomed girls).  “This is an iconic image.  This is like the famous tennis player, or the lady in the rainforest.  This is a beautiful image.”   

[Further details of the cross-examination – including yesterday’s exchanges – will be included in a blog tomorrow]
Earlier in the morning on Day 15 (3 February), Mr. Staniford’s lawyer David Sutherland questioned the defendant on various documents tabled as evidence in the trial. 
“This gets to the heart of the matter of the spread: the cancerous spread of salmon cages around the coast and how salmon feedlots are located in the mouths of rivers and in the migration routes, choking the wild baby salmon as they swim past spreading infectious diseases and parasites like sea lice,” said Mr. Staniford referring to a 2007 letter to Marine Harvest’s owner John Fredriksen (72nd richest man in the world – worth $10.7 billion).  “As you can see on the ‘Salmon Farming Kills Wild Baby Salmon’ and ‘Salmon Farming Sucks’ cigarette packets.”

“There’s a plague of ‘super lice’,” said Mr. Staniford referring to an article by Rob Edwards published in The Caledonian Mercury in 2010.  “These are like the super bugs – the rats that can’t get killed by Warfarin or the bugs that can’t get killed by Round Up.  Sea lice on salmon farms are developing chemical resistance – chemotherapy no longer works.  There are several cigarette packets regarding salmon farming killing with chemicals – and the whole notion of this carcinogenic spread.  We’ve got to a situation with our sea lice chemicals – these weapons – don’t work anymore.  So sea lice are spreading.  The industry is effectively in a chemicals arms race that it’s losing – trying to fight a losing battle to kill sea lice.”
Read more via ‘Plague of ‘super lice’ threatens wild salmon’ 
“Kurt Oddekalv is talking about the ad campaigns around the world promoting farmed salmon,” said Mr. Staniford quoting from a press release launching the ‘Salmon Farming Kills’ campaign issued in January 2011.  “He talks about the industry denying peer-reviewed scientific evidence detailing human health and environmental risks.  That’s exactly like the tobacco industry in terms of their denial of the science, how they try to bury the science, and smear those campaigning against smoking.  It’s eerily familiar with what’s happened in the salmon farming industry.”
“I’m actually going after this trial to work in Norway for the Green Warriors and take up a position with Kurt Oddekalv,” said Mr. Staniford.  “It’s a global campaign.”

“That’s a sea lion caught in a net,” said Mr. Staniford pointing to one of the ‘Salmon Farming Kills’ cigarette packets.  “That’s a dead sea lion – salmon farms and salmon farming operations kill marine mammals around the world.  We have seen cartoons showing or depicting Mary Ellen Walling from the BC Salmon Farmers Association machine-gunning sea lions.  And we filed a complaint to the Department of Commerce in the United States in relation to a breach of the US Marine Mammal Protection Act.  So salmon farms are lethal to marine mammals.”

“Salmon farming kills communities,” said Mr. Staniford pointing to a cigarette packet.  “The graphic there is from a mass protest, one of the largest mass rallies in BC history, the culmination of the ‘Get Out Migration’ in May 2010 on the lawn of the Legislature.  Communities across British Columbia, from up and down Vancouver Island, marched down the island and on the final day walked over 30 km from Sidney to Victoria - and gathered and demanded that the salmon farms get out.  They came from communities across the province that are complaining that salmon farming is sucking the life-blood out of their communities, killing wild salmon, killing their clams beds, and causing social decay, the closure of schools.  First Nations talk about genocide in relation to the decline of wild salmon – and relate that directly to salmon farming.  There is a class action lawsuit from communities in the Broughton Archipelago in relation to this.”

“There is peer-reviewed science that shows that salmon farms kill wild baby salmon,” said Mr. Staniford.  “So that’s directly related to science which shows wherever there are salmon farms around the world there is mortalities associated with wild salmon and sea trout.  Everywhere salmon farms operate they spread sea lice which are killing wild baby salmon.”
“Salmon farming is licensed to kill,” said Mr. Staniford referring to a blog called ‘Licensed to Kill’.  “This is detailing in Scotland how the Scottish Government has issued licences to kill over one thousand seals.  And also here in British Columbia, the BC salmon farmers and the companies operating here are licensed to kill marine mammals, sea lions, and even on occasion protected Steller sea lions which are protected by SARA (Species at Risk Act).  So they are licensed to kill.”
“Salmon farming kills birds, especially diving birds,” said Mr. Staniford referring to another cigarette packet.  “In Shetland in Scotland, for example, a group found lots of eider ducks which had been killed in the nets of salmon farms.  It happens on a very regular basis that birds will be killed.  And then there is the indirect effects in terms of salmon farming displacing wild salmon and the food chain ecosystem effects in Norway, for example, because salmon farmers go out and catch lots of wild fish, there’s less fish for the birds, the seagulls, to eat.  And also here in British Columbia the eagles are starving and that’s another issue.”

“This is a direct quote from David Suzuki who said ‘I wouldn’t serve farmed salmon to my children – it’s poison!’,” said Mr. Staniford referring to the ‘Salmon Farming is Poison’ cigarette packet.  “But it also relates to the poisons, the toxins, the cancer-causing chemicals in farmed salmon and the toxic and poisonous chemicals used on salmon farms, whether they are the artificial colourings or the sea lice chemicals.  There’s lots of poisons associated with salmon farming and with the cancer-causing chemicals in the flesh of farmed salmon – you could say that the product is hazardous and poisonous.”

“Sadly, humans die on salmon farms and associated with salmon farming operations around the world,” said Mr. Staniford pointing to the ‘Salmon Farming Kills Workers’ cigarette packet.  “Here in British Columbia last year Marine Harvest was fined $75,000.  There are over 50 dead workers in Chile, for example, from 2005 to 2009.  There are deaths in Scotland – including from the plaintiff and other Norwegian companies.”

“Well, I think we’ve got to a stage now where salmon farming should carry a warning,” said Mr. Staniford.  “We’ve had the BBC documentary ten years ago, ‘Warnings from the Wild’, and that also included the dioxin and PCB research.  I think salmon farming – salmon farms – should carry a warning and the products that they produce should carry health warning labels.”

“Salmon farming is spreading like a malignant cancer on our coast,” said Mr. Staniford.  “Cancer refers to multiple things.  But literally, cancer can refer to the cancer-causing chemicals.  We’ve had extensive peer-reviewed evidence on carcinogens in farmed salmon.  But also the method of the spread of cancer, the spread of infectious diseases.  I have been campaigning to remove salmon farms from migration routes, from the mouth of rivers.  And even the owner of Marine Harvest, John Fredriksen, has said they should be moved.  So the analogy would be like the cages are like cells – they are like cancer cells at the mouths of rivers.  So we need to rip out that cancer.  We need to not just use chemotherapeutants and chemicals to kill diseases and parasites because of chemical resistance.  We need to tackle the root causes of the cancer not just treat the symptoms.  So that means removing salmon farms from our coast.  And the phrase ‘cancer on our coast’ is clearly to do with the coast.  It goes to the issue of the spread.  Norwegian-owned salmon farms have spread since the 1960s.  Infectious Salmon Anaemia has been spread by Norwegian salmon farming companies since the 1980s around the world.  It is like a cancer.”

“The chemicals that are used on salmon farms, most of them are designed to kill sea lice,” said Mr. Staniford addressing the issue of ‘Salmon Pharming’ in Cermaq’s ‘Amended Notice of Civil Claim.’  “Sea lice is a crustacean – it’s a member of the crustacean family.  So if you’re using a chemical to kill sea lice you are not just going to kill sea lice on a farm if there’s lobsters or other crustaceans in the area you’re going to have some fatalities.  That’s going to be collateral damage in the war on sea lice.  There’s been numerous examples over the years of salmon farming chemicals killing lobsters.”
For more background read ‘Silent Spring of the Sea

“Salmon farming is morally reprehensible,” said Mr. Staniford.  “It’s immoral.  Stealing wild fish from the mouths of hungry people in South America and producing a product - an expensive product for sale that has cancer-causing chemicals - and selling it as a healthy product, if that’s not immoral and socially irresponsible, I don’t know what is.  It’s exactly like what the smoking industry have done to promote their product.”     
Read more via “Eastern Shore salmon farm proposal morally indefensible
“That’s the picture of Darth Vader smoking,” said Mr. Staniford.  “And that relates to the MOD Squad where we saw the images.  But the parasite, the pathogen associated with the Black Death Plague – that same pathogen is on salmon farms here in British Columbia and around the world.  In the bubonic plague it’s Yersinia pestis in rats.  And in salmon farms it’s Yersinia ruckeri.  That goes to the spread of this deathly disease.  And a lot of the diseases on salmon farms are lethal to farmed salmon.”

 For more background read ‘Fish Farmageddon: The Infectious Salmon Aquacalypse
“If you go to the famous Simon and Garfunkel song ‘Sound of Silence’, there’s a line in that which says ‘Silence like a cancer grows’,” said Mr. Staniford.  

 “And Martin Luther King says in one of his speeches says ‘hate spreads like a cancer.’  So again, it’s the methaphor, it’s using cancer in that context.  Not just from a human health impact.....And we need to rip out that cancer.  We need to rip it out of the body of the world.”
“Cermaq and the industry, they’re not really interested in dialogue,” said Mr. Staniford.  “When they say they want to talk, that’s just a euphemism.  We want to talk to you if you want to bend to our view.  So they talk about having a dialogue.  You’ve got to accommodate our interests.  And I don’t think – there’s no right way to do the wrong thing here.  So there’s no compromise when it comes to salmon farms.  You either have a salmon farm or you don’t.....We can’t have Atlantic salmon farms here in British Columbia spreading infectious diseases.  Healthy wild Pacific salmon stocks are incompatible with disease-ridden salmon farms.  So we can’t have both.  We need to choose what we want.  And I think – if consumers want to buy farmed salmon, they should be advised that there’s health warning.”

“Yes, this is a PR war,” said Mr. Staniford.  “In the Cohen Commission there were documents saying that the government viewed this as a PR war.  There’s a PR war brewing for the last 30 to 40 years....The public relations war has escalated.  I think this lawsuit is a microcosm of that war.  You are seeing it here in the conflict between this company and Norwegian salmon farming companies trying to fight to defend their reputation.”
“It has a PR problem,” said Mr. Staniford.  “Just look at the advertising campaigns.  If you think about products that use lots of advertising, it’s a function of the fact that they have got a bit of a problem.  You don’t have to advertise a product – you don’t have to promote an industry unless there’s public relations problems with that.  So the launch of ‘BC Salmon Facts’ in January 2011 – in the marketing magazines it was described as a $1.5 million ad campaign – that just is symptomatic of the fact that the industry has a big problem.  And when they came out with the adverts, and one of the adverts we saw yesterday said farmed salmon is free of contaminants.”

[Download the advert above and others online here]
“That is so blatantly untrue that GAAIA felt obliged – a moral imperative, a duty – to respond to that,” continued Mr. Staniford.  “Because that is just wrong.”

“And I think you’ve seen the adverts from Big Tobacco and smoking, a lot of those ads from the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and even now in some African countries, the tobacco advertising rules are much more lax.  You are seeing misleading adverts, and the salmon farming industry has employed the same deceptive advertising.  A complaint to the Federal Trade Commission was in response to that in terms of the pregnant woman.  And I think the BC Salmon Farmers Association with their ‘BC Salmon Facts’ campaign have made exactly the same mistake.”