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A campaign group has hailed a ‘watershed victory’ in the public right to access lochs used by salmon farms after winning an apology from Police Scotland.
Don Staniford, director of Scottish Salmon Watch, made a formal complaint following encounters with Oban-based police officers at Loch Creran in July 2020, and at Loch Linnhe a year earlier.
Mr Staniford, aged 49, said the attendance of officers on the day and their advice amounted to police acting as a ‘private security firm’ for salmon farms.
He has now met with police inspectors at Oban Police Station and received an apology from a police inspector.
His complaint – investigated by a chief inspector – could also see ‘learning’ being required by police officers to help fill in ‘gaps’ about the law across the force, according to the official letter he received.
The issue came under the spotlight after he and campaigners twice accessed local lochs to investigate fish farm welfare concerns.
At both incidents, police officers were quickly on the scene – on the shore in the most recent incident, and in a boat in the latter.
In the most recent incident in July this year, Mr Staniford and Matt Mellen, editor of independent online magazine Ecohustler, went to Loch Creran off the A828.
Their 10-minute exchange with officers on the shoreline was filmed, with police telling the pair ‘one of the farms’ had complained that people were ‘in the water, near to the cages’ and ‘within the exclusion zone’.
Mr Staniford and Mr Mellen were told there were concerns about their safety and warned that if they continued to swim there it could be ‘classed as a criminal offence’ and a ‘culpable and reckless act’.
But Mr Staniford told officers he had welfare concerns and there was a ‘public right’ to swim and navigate in ‘public waters’ around salmon farms and challenged them on the law.
At Shuna in Loch Linnhe in July 2019, Mr Staniford and Andrew Holder of Dip in the Blue, were approached by a pair of officers in a boat.
The attending officer said he needed ‘permission’ from Scottish Sea Farms to film there.
Following his complaint, Mr Staniford has now received a written response from Marlene Baillie, an area chief inspector, who thanked him for bringing the matters to her attention.
In the letter, the chief inspector conceded there was a ‘gap in knowledge’ among officers about the ‘complex’ law in relation to fish farms and aquaculture.
Furthermore, Chief Inspector Baillie said the issue is a ‘national matter’ and that ‘learning’ from the incidents would be ‘shared’ across the police service ‘with the intention of improving our corporate knowledge and level of response.’
Mr Staniford hailed it as ‘watershed victory’.
He said: ‘Police Scotland has effectively reinforced the legality of filming at salmon farms. Police Scotland has sent a powerful message to their own officers that they cannot act as private security guards for companies.
‘The public has an inalienable right to navigate – including kayaking and diving – in public waters where salmon farms operate.’
‘The message from Scottish Salmon Watch to salmon farming companies is crystal clear – we’re watching you and we have the law on our side,’ said Mr Staniford.
‘Despite legal threats of salmon farming companies, the legitimacy of video surveillance and public monitoring of salmon farms is irrefutable. Salmon farms cannot keep the public out of public waters – whether they are collecting effluent samples, diving under the cages or kayaking safely.’
Mr Staniford has called on police to respond with the same enthusiasm when he has asked them to investigate allegations of welfare abuse under wildlife legislation.
Loch Linnhe video from July 2019: https://vimeo.com/348103463
Loch Creran video from July 2020: https://vimeo.com/442339066