An environmentalist who highlights problems with Scotland’s fish farming industry has accused Police Scotland of acting as “private security” for a Norwegian-owned firm operating farms along Scotland’s west coast.

Don Staniford, from the campaign group Scottish Salmon Watch, made the allegation following an incident in July at a salmon farm operated by Scottish Sea Farms in the Sound of Shuna, at Loch Linnhe.

He has submitted a complaint to Police Scotland and released a video of the incident. But the force said in reply that it does not provide private security for the company.

On 3 July Staniford was on a yacht in a public waterway filming close to the fish farm when he was approached by two police officers in another vessel who asked if he had permission to be there.

The police told Scottish Salmon Watch to leave the area, prompting Staniford’s claim they were acting as private security for Scottish Sea Farms.

On approaching, an officer with Appin Police said to Staniford: “Tell me, why are you here exactly?”

Staniford told the officer he was filming the salmon farm and was in a public waterway. The officer replied: “Have you got permission to do that?”

The officer also said that the location of Staniford’s boat was “not suitable for anchorage”. But Staniford pointed out that it was not anchored.

The officer replied: “I don’t appreciate you being here unless you had permission from Scottish Sea Farms”. He then asked for Staniford’s name.

He later informed Staniford a theft had been reported, although no search was carried out on the yacht.

“The sergeant, when pressed on what laws or regulations were being broken, claimed that Police Scotland had received a call suggesting a theft was taking place,” said Staniford.

“Yet when Police Scotland first approached Scottish Salmon Watch they did not ask to search the boat or even question whether a theft was taking place.”

He added: “It appeared that Police Scotland’s motive was primarily to force Scottish Salmon Watch from the public waterway, intimidate and stipulate that permission was needed from a Norwegian-owned private company to enjoy a public waterway in Scotland.”

Probe launched into policing of fox hunts

Staniford was backed by Howard Wood, a winner of the international Goldman Environmental Prize and one of the founders of the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (Coast). “There is a much bigger issue here,” he wrote on Facebook.

Wood recounted how Coast had been told by a fish farming company a couple of years ago not to go near salmon cages, or feedlots. When Coast questioned this, the company reported it to the police who questioned Coast in Arran.

“My understanding of the law in Scotland is as long as you don’t damage any feedlot gear, you have every right to be in the sea as the master of a boat, swimmer or diver,” he said.

“The bigger issue is the police allowing themselves to be involved when feedlot companies phone up – but not being interested when environmental laws and regulations are broken.”

Police Scotland said that officers had talked to Staniford. “Police Scotland attended a fish farm in Loch Linnhe following reports of suspicious activity following recent thefts in the area,” stated a police spokesperson.

“Officers attended and spoke to the owner of a boat in the area and asked him to move to another location. Advice and guidance was given.”

All fairly straightforward and community-minded. Gerry McCormick, Scottish Sea Farms

Scottish Sea Farms said: “On the evening of 3 July a local boatman spotted the unfamiliar sight of a yacht alongside our barge and salmon farm which, given it was after normal working hours, were both unmanned,” said the company’s health and safety manager, Gerry McCormick.

“Concerned that the intention might be damage or theft, the boatman alerted the local Police Scotland team. All fairly straightforward and community-minded.”

In March 2016 The Ferret reported allegations that Police Scotland were harassing animals rights activists protesting against fox hunts. Video footage showed police stopping hunt saboteurs and threatening to arrest them if they refused to provide personal details.

Journalists investigating claims of illegal hunting in Fife in 2015 were also threatened with arrest.

Video and screen grab thanks to Don Staniford.

This was story was updated at 12.32 to correct a paragraph saying Scottish Sea Farms contacted Police Scotland.

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