We were pleased to see the report by the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) committee was published today. This report follows their inquiry into the Scottish salmon farming industry and is written to inform the Rural Economy and Connectivity (REC) committee in their inquiry into salmon farming.
OneKind provided evidence to the ECCLR inquiry, urging the committee to consider fish welfare issues, as these- whilst often tightly coupled with environmental problems- are usually ignored. We were therefore pleased to see that the report shows some consideration to fish welfare in the following areas.
Sea lice feed on the skin and flesh of salmon, causing physical and physiological damage, which can result in death. The report rightly highlights the severity of the sea lice problem in Scotland today. It also noted that there are problems with the treatments for sea lice, stating that “nearly all of these treatments are costly, none are fully effective, and most need to be repeated”. Indeed, treatments for sea lice can be just as deadly themselves, causing large numbers of fish to lose their lives.
There are many diseases that affect farmed salmon. These diseases, alongside other factors, cause high mortality levels, with over 20% of salmon dying in one year throughout the production cycle. This shocking level of mortality was captured well with this comment in the report:
“[Mortality] levels would not be considered acceptable in other livestock sectors and should not be considered to be acceptable in the salmon farming industry”
In 2016, over 300,000 fish escaped from Scottish salmon farms. So far this year, there have been three incidents where salmon have escaped from farms, including one where around 21,700 salmon escaped from a fish farm in Loch Snizort.
Some suggest that a solution to reduce the impact of escaped fish on wild salmon is the use of triploid salmon. These are fish that, following heat or pressure shock, have three sets of chromosomes instead of two. Research suggests that triploid fish have reduced survival, and as a result OneKind opposes the use of triploid fish. It was therefore good to see that the welfare issues of triploid fish have been considered in the report, noting that there are “issues in relation to the health and resilience of triploids”.
One of the solutions to tackling sea lice is the use of cleaner fish to pick off and eat the sea lice of salmon. Whilst some see the use of cleaner fish as a promising, environmentally friendly solution to the sea lice problem, we have concerns over their welfare. We were therefore delighted to see that our concerns over these issues were mentioned within the report, highlighting that:
“A number of submissions, including the submission from OneKind, raised welfare concerns in relation to the use of cleaner fish: harm caused as a result of interactions between wrasse and salmon; disease and parasite treatments impacting cleaner fish; cleaner fish spreading pathogens and parasites to salmon causing harm, and the slaughter (and disposal) of the cleaner fish at the end of the production cycle.”
The ECCLR report concludes that, in the salmon farming industry, the “status quo is not an option” because of the numerous problems it currently faces. This is a sentiment that we strongly agree with. The number of fish suffering on salmon farms in Scotland is unacceptable and change is desperately needed. This is particularly important given that the salmon farming industry aims to expand production to nearly double its current amount. There is no doubt that doubling production without tackling the issues mentioned above will exacerbate current problems and lead to further suffering.
The report by the ECCLR committee does offer hope that change will occur. Indeed, the identification that animal welfare is an issue that needs consideration within the discussion of Scottish salmon farming, indicates this. So to does the conclusion that further research is necessary to tackle problems facing the Scottish salmon farming industry. We hope that any further research will look into improving the welfare of farmed fish, for example through researching sea lice and disease prevention and treatment, and the welfare of cleaner fish in aquaculture.