I’ve recently joined the OneKind team to work on a new project that will look at the welfare of salmon on Scottish fish farms. With the recent launch of the inquiry into the environmental impacts of salmon farming by the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) committee, we thought it would be a perfect time to announce that we have identified the welfare of salmon on Scottish fish farms as a priority to work on in 2018, as supported by Eurogroup for Animals. Here are five facts that explain why we are concerned about Scottish salmon farming.
- Fish are sentient animals
There is a plethora of evidence that shows that fish are sentient animals, capable of feeling pain. They have receptors that can detect painful stimuli, which then pass on this information to the brain. Research has shown that this occurs in Atlantic Salmon, where exposure to a noxious stimulus resulted in stimulation in part of the brain called the telencephalon.
On detection of pain, fish change their behaviour in a way that shows that they are experiencing discomfort. For example, when rainbow trout had chemicals applied to their lips, they started rubbing their lips against gravel or against the side of their tank.
- Atlantic salmon farming is a big deal in Scotland
Scotland is the largest producer of farmed Atlantic salmon in the EU, and the third largest global producer after Norway and Chile. It’s estimated that, over the course of a year, over 40 million individual salmon are part of the salmon farming industry. According to industry statistics, 162,817 tonnes of salmon was produced in 2016.
Whilst the number of fish produced each year in Scotland is already astounding, the Scottish Government wants to increase the number of salmon produced. They have set a target to increase overall finfish production to 210,000 tonnes by 2020, and 300,000 by 2030. This means that new fish farms are constantly being proposed, and farms that already exist often seek permission to increase in size.
- Salmon farming is full of problems
The Monterey Bay Seafood watch scheme recently ranked Atlantic salmon farmed on Mainland Scotland, Shetland and the Western Isles as a product to “avoid”. This follows its measly score of 2.65 out of 10, the lowest of all Atlantic Salmon producers. This score was given to Scotland’s farmed salmon largely because of issues related to diseases, escapes and chemical pollution. Of the three, two cause welfare issues to farmed salmon:
- Diseases: There have been countless incidences of diseases causing havoc on Scottish fish farms. Take for example the 125,000 fish that were killed following an outbreak of disease caused by the bacterium Pasteurella skyensis on Isle of Lewis fish farms.
- Escapes: In 2016 over 300,000 fish escaped from Scottish fish farms. Because of selective breeding, farmed salmon are less suited to life in the wild, meaning that they will often suffer after escaping.
Sadly, these are only a few of the ways in which salmon can suffer on fish farms. Other ways range from causing increased stress through transportation, to abnormalities in the ear bones of fish which effectively renders them deaf.
- Sea lice cause suffering on a large scale
Perhaps one of the biggest current threats to Scottish farmed salmon is sea lice, a parasite that feeds on the skin and blood of salmon. This causes scale loss and lesions, weakening the fish, often to the point that the fish will die. As if this doesn’t cause enough stress for the fish, it has also been suggested that sea lice can pass on diseases to fish such as Infectious Salmon Anaemia. Many salmon farms are affected by sea lice. For example, research shows that over half of seawater salmon farms inspected by the Fish Heath Inspectorate between January and June 2017 had sea lice levels that were over levels suggested by the industry’s “Code of Good Practise”. One site was even recorded at one point as having an average lice level number of 14 female lice per fish, a number which is sure to cause huge amounts of suffering to the fish that are infested.
- The solutions to improve animal welfare can do more harm than good.
Ironically, some of the methods to remove sea lice from salmon end up causing more harm than the lice themselves. For example, in 2016, at one fish farm located off the Isle of Skye, 95,000 fish were “accidentally slaughtered” during treatment for sea lice. Furthermore, even when treatment doesn’t cause large mortalities, it can still compromise the welfare of fish. For example, a report by the Fish Health Inspectorate noted that, on one site, using SkaMic (soft brushes and jets of water that remove sea lice) caused fish to lose their scales.
An alternative to using above treatments is through using “cleaner fish” such as wrasse and lumpsucker to pick and eat the lice off salmon. Whilst this may sound a lot nicer than the treatments mentioned above, using cleaner fish raises further welfare issues. First, the cleaner fish that are viewed as disposable, being slaughtered after they have performed their job of cleaning salmon. Furthermore, there has been research that suggests that cleaner fish may damage the health of the salmon they are cleaning. This is because there is potential that they spread disease.
Overall, Atlantic salmon farming in Scotland causes suffering to millions of fish. I will be conducting more research on this issue- so watch this space! If you have an interest in this and would like to discuss this new programme I’d love to hear from you, just drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.