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

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 is an underlying reason why the industry takes its welfare responsibility so seriously.

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 per cent 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 from 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.

Data from the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) shows that the industry average lice levels during 2018 are the lowest they have been since 2013. The overall industry lice average for May was 0.31 adult female lice per salmon. This reflects the continuing improvement in industry lice management.

Salmon survival rates

There have been recent issues with changing water temperatures and new gill health problems. 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 10-Year Farmed Fish Health Framework is the result of industry, government and regulator collaboration. It sets out a roadmap of activity to ensure that farmed fish health reaches the high standards we aspire to. It also recognises the valuable work that the sector 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.

Humane standards

Scottish salmon farmers work to humane standards of salmon harvesting. Stunning fish before harvest is a vital element of the salmon farming sector’s overall ethos of good welfare standards throughout the lifecycle. All Scottish salmon farmers stun the fish as part of the harvesting process.

There are currently two methods of stunning used; percussive and electric. Both methods are humane and minimise any stress on the fish. The process is carried out by trained personnel who manage the process quickly and effectively.

Salmon farmers adopted stunning as part of the harvest process when the sector began, more than 50 years ago. It is important for both the welfare of the fish and the quality of the product which reaches the supermarkets. Flesh quality and flavour can be compromised if an animal is stressed.

The stunning process in salmon farming is independently audited by welfare and product quality schemes. The RSPCA Assured scheme sets strict controls to ensure the highest levels of welfare, including the requirement to stun all fish as part of the slaughter process.

Sustainable industry growth

SSPO is committed to the 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 overriding 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.