Scottish salmon farming expansion must stop, say critics

salmon farm

Expansion of Scotland’s salmon farming industry should be banned until welfare standards are improved, according to a new report from leading Scottish animal charity, OneKind.

The report, published on 7th August by Edinburgh-based OneKind, says that scientists believe fish are “sentient”, suggesting that their response to pain and other stimuli is remarkably similar to that of mammals, including humans.

The report says that the farming industry “seriously compromises the welfare of salmon”. It highlights major problems in tackling diseases, infestation by parasitic sea lice, premature deaths, congenital health defects, overstocking and escapes, which can leave captive-bred fish struggling to cope with living in the wild.

The report also says that Scottish Government plans from 2016 to almost double annual farmed fish production numbers to over 65 million individuals a year by 2030, should be halted until such problems can be better tackled.

Fears over environmental problems surrounding fish farming in Scottish waters – concentrated on the west coast, Outer Hebrides and northern isles – are well documented. Campaigners say effluent from farms is a serious pollutant, and claim sea-lice infestation and escapes have had a devastating effect on wild salmon and sea trout stocks.

But the new report says the welfare of the fish involved in the industry is often forgotten.

The Ferret reported on 6 August that OneKind had drawn up a league table assessing the welfare standards of farmed fish. They also published an investigation that found leading supermarket chains were stocking fish from firms accused of poor animal welfare.

The Ferret is now launching an audio documentary examining the science behind increased awareness of fish sentience and pain responses, the fears of campaigners about fish welfare, and the industry response to these concerns.

Sea Cages

The new report from OneKind includes a wealth of detail on welfare issues. It shows that in 2014 more than a quarter of the fish that were taken to sea cages from freshwater breeding sites died. Similar numbers have been affected in 2016 and 2017.

The report says that sea lice infestation, where the parasites eat the skin and tissues of the living salmon, causes raised levels of the stress hormone cortisol. But the industry and the Scottish Government set different limits on the number of lice per fish that should trigger treatment.

Even when the higher government levels are exceeded, the report says there is “very little evidence that effective action is taken”.

Another area of concern is the practice of using “cleaner fish” such as wrasse and lumpsuckers to get rid of the lice. These fish will naturally eat the lice off the salmon, and have been touted as a new solution to the lice problem.

However, the report says that the welfare of the cleaner fish themselves is now a problem. “Furthermore, cleaner fish are seen as disposable and are killed at the end of each production cycle, though many will die before the production cycle ends,” it adds.

There are strict rules to prevent too many fish being crowded into cages, which leads to salmon fighting. But OneKind says that data it collected shows that 15 Scottish farms exceeded their biomass limits, in total 40 times, between 2013 and 2017.

As well as a moratorium on industry expansion, the report’s recommendations include:

  • banning the use of cleaner fish until welfare standards are produced;
  • a new limit on stocking densities;
  • welfare-led trigger levels for sea lice, with compliance properly enforced;
  • mandatory welfare assessments of new disease treatment methods before they are brought in; and
  • research into whether the kind of environmental enrichment we see in domestic fish tanks, such as plants and coloured rocks, could benefit salmon welfare.


Read the full article Scottish salmon farming expansion must be stopped, say critics at The Ferret.

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