Below the waves in Scotland’s rocky coastlines, lurks a terrifying animal welfare nightmare. Beneath the waters, more than 38 million animals circle filthy, overcrowded underwater cages, where disease and death are rife.
We need to take a stand against this eerie reality for Scotland’s salmon. We take a look at the horrifying animal welfare concerns that must be addressed.
High mortality rates
Mortality rates on Scotland’s salmon farms are high. In 2018, on one salmon farm alone, Mowi, more than 700,000 salmon died prematurely in just 3 months. And for 2019, The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) reported a staggering 10 million+ premature farmed salmon deaths.
High mortality rates indicate suffering, as deaths are rarely instantaneous and rather are due to conditions such as disease and sea lice.
Sea lice infestations
Sea lice feed on the skin, scales, tissues and mucous layer of salmon, causing the development of lesions and loss of scales and ultimately even death. The Fish Health Inspectorate reports (2017)document seeing fish with “sever lice damage to their heads”, otherwise grimly known as “death crowns”.
Heavy infestation of sea lice also can lead to increased levels of stress in farmed salmon. This chronic stress compromises the welfare of fish by increasing the likelihood of further infection and reducing their growth rate.
Farmed salmon can suffer from a wide range of disease due to the crowded conditions in which they live. There have been countless incidences of diseases causing havoc on Scottish fish farms. In 2019, the £3 billion fish farming firm, Mowi, reported the deaths of around 700,000 salmon on its farms in just a three month period. Diseases and sea lice infestations were among the top reasons cited for the huge numbers of deaths.
One disease, in particular, Amoebic Gill Disease (AGD)- which causes respiratory problems, and can cause death through asphyxiation- is still a major cause of mortalities in Scotland and has been known to cause up to 50% of losses on salmon farms.
Treatment for sea lice and disease
Treatments for sea lice and disease expose salmon to harsh chemicals or harsh mechanical treatments, causing stress, physical injury and death.
A key example of a harsh mechanical treatment is the Thermolicer, where fish are placed in higher water temperatures to kill sea lice. Salmon are crowded into one area to be pumped into Thermolicer, which may expose them to abrasive surfaces that can cause them physical damage. In just one incident in 2017, 10,619 salmon died following a Thermolicer treatment.
Farmed salmon may also be exposed to bleach to treat sea lice. While it has been praised as environmentally-friendly, exposure to this chemical can cause the fish stress and damage to the mucosal barriers of the skin, gills and gut.
Lumpfish, known as “cleaner fish”, may also be used to pick off and eat sea lice from salmon. As noted by the Farm Animal Welfare Committee (2014a), cleaner fish experience the same welfare issues that farmed fish face. In 2019, the Scottish Government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) criticised MOWI for failing to protect the welfare of “cleaner fish” earlier that year.
Escapes from salmon farms are frequent, with 300,000 salmon escaping in 2017. Salmon that escape are poorly adapted to a life in the wild and will suffer. Escaped farmed salmon also interbreed with wild individuals, creating offspring with reduced fitness, which causes severe population declines of wild salmon.
At the beginning of this year, 74,000 farmed salmon escaped from just ONE salmon farm, situated off Colonsay. Mowi, the company responsible for the disaster, was also responsible for the escape of 48,000 fish in October 2017 and November 2018.
How can I help put an end to this nightmare?
Scotland’s farmed salmon suffer greatly at the hands of Scotland’s salmon farming industry. Please take a stand for these often forgotten animals and sign our petition calling for a moratorium on the expansion of the salmon farming industry here.