SSPO input to “The Ferret” podcast review of animal welfare on salmon farms

It is unfortunate that we felt we had to withdraw support for an onsite interview for the Ferret. Having initially offered a site visit and interview, we withdrew when a threat of legal action against our member companies by the funders of the documentary being produced by The Ferret arose.

Farm welfare standards

Scottish salmon farmers rear their fish to the highest welfare standards, on the basis that fish in their care are capable of feeling pain. That’s an underlying reason why the industry takes its welfare responsibility so seriously.

Fish health and welfare is at the heart of successful Scottish salmon farming.

Farm pens in Scotland are stocked at some of the lowest farming densities of all salmon farming countries and production standards ensure that fish have plenty of room to shoal in clean, oxygen rich water.

Around 70% of Scottish salmon are certified to the RSPCA Farm Assured scheme – a higher percentage than any other UK farming sector. The remaining salmon are reared to the same high welfare standards.

Sea Lice

Working in nature inevitably means that, as part of their regular routine, farmers deal with challenges such as sea lice.

A range of techniques are being employed by the industry to manage sea lice. These include:

  • The use of cleaner fish (such as wrasse and lumpfish) which live among farmed salmon and pick off and eat any sea lice
  • Investing in physical barriers such as “lice skirts” around pens to prevent sea lice moving into farms from the environment
  • Investment in mechanical devices to remove lice from salmon

Using a combination of these techniques and technologies is proving effective in the management of sea lice.

SSPO data shows that the overall industry lice average for March 2018 was 0.34 adult female lice per salmon. These are the lowest they have been since July 2013 and the underlying trend is downwards. This reflects the continuing improvement in industry lice management.

Salmon survival rates

There have been recent challenges with changing water temperatures and new gill health issues. Complex challenges require sophisticated solutions and the industry is investing in research to improve survival, from work to breed fish that are less susceptible to health issues to looking at why there is increased resistance to sea lice medicines.

The recently launched Farmed Fish Health Framework is the result of industry, government and regulator collaboration and sets out a roadmap of activity to ensure that farmed fish health reaches the high standards we aspire to. It recognises the valuable work that industry is already undertaking, sets out actions to be put in place, but importantly, looks ahead so that the industry and its stakeholders develop more open and transparent communication and understanding to allow salmon farming to progress sustainably and successfully.

Sustainable Industry Growth

We are committed to sustainable and steady future growth of this important Scottish farming sector. Scottish salmon farmers recognise that the current consenting regime for Scottish aquaculture (including the planning system and other regulatory frameworks relevant to environmental protection) will be the over-riding factor that determines sustainable growth

The industry understands that it must overcome production challenges and minimise wider impacts in order to grow and continue to provide jobs, investment and other social benefits to the rural economy and communities. It is in all our interests that Scottish salmon continues to grow sustainably and remains the UK’s top food export.