Why Scottish salmon is worthy of support

Scott Landsburgh gives his view of Scottish salmon farming, 25 years of Label Rouge, and the industry’s achievements and challenges.

This is a very special moment in the history of Scottish salmon farming.

Salmon is Scotland’s number one food export and the most popular fish in UK consumers’ shopping basket. We are celebrating 25 years of the prestigious French Label Rouge award and have twice been voted “best salmon in the world” by a panel of international retailers.

We’ve come a long way in just under 50 years. No longer just an idea for crofting diversification, but a recognised leader in the Scottish food industry. Established in Highland and Islands communities and acknowledged for the employment and economic support we bring to remote, rural areas. Something to be proud of.

Like any farmers, there can be challenges with livestock. Like any farmers, we work long and hard to overcome these, because the quality of our fish and our highly prized reputation depend on responsible husbandry.

In the past few years, changing circumstances have seen swarms of jelly fish and algal blooms around our coast which can affect salmon welfare. Using technology to track the movements of these algal blooms we’ve discovered that our native blooms are now in Greenland and the ones we are experiencing here are from warmer, more tropical type waters. We can only conclude that this is, indeed, climate change affecting the water temperatures around Scotland’s coast.

All of this has contributed to higher numbers of sea lice than we would like. While sea lice were here before salmon farming even began, we have to manage them as part of our fish health and welfare responsibilities as farmers. This hasn’t been easy over the past couple of years. The industry has committed time, expertise and investment to address these new conditions. Little cleaner fish like wrasse and now lumpsuckers are working well as biological solutions. Mechanical devices are being introduced, too, and the efforts have paid off. The last quarter of 2016 showed the best results for the past 4 years. And for the record, Scotland has one of the highest fish health rankings in the world because of its independently audited Code of Good Practice.

Experts in many fields from vets to regulators are involved in every aspect of how salmon farming operates. The industry respects their guidance, advice, regulations and law. Our record is good. Occasionally farmers, nature and the regulators disagree, but the way ahead is found by balancing economic and environmental sustainability.

The investment in good, sustainable practice has been very significant (around £50m) but any farmer will tell you that you have to keep working to adapt to changing natural conditions. And we will.

We will, because the future of the industry, its fantastic workforce and those communities who share their stunning lochs with us deserve the best and are the best. With that success inevitably comes criticism. It’s disappointing and can be irritating where it is unreasonable but our success tells its own story and we are proud to farm Scottish salmon – and always will be.