In the Scottish salmon sector, we are very proud of our processes, standards and results. Fish health and welfare is at the heart of every decision we make and is integral to everything we do. This is why it was placed at the heart of the sector Charter which was published in 2020 outlining our long-term sustainability plans.
Our farmers monitor their stock every day and act quickly if there is an indication of any health or welfare challenges to their fish. This is done in line with veterinary advice and, where appropriate, using available and authorised medicines and treatments. This is the same as any other animal welfare - farmed or domestic.
Working in nature, whether on land or at sea, inevitably means that overcoming challenges is part of a farmer's regular routine. But they are also part of a team. As well as farmers having thorough fish health and welfare training, they are supported by specialists and veterinary experts to make sure that the best conditions are maintained for our salmon. All this contributes to the production of a high-quality, healthy product which is demanded around the globe.
Good farm husbandry
All our farmers have a responsibility to look after their livestock, whatever the challenge. They, along with support from health and welfare specialists and vets, employ a range of techniques to ensure the health and welfare of their salmon. Investment and spending on prevention over cure has increased in recent years.
- The sector is world-leading in its use of cleaner fish such as wrasse and lumpfish. They live among farmed salmon and pick off and eat any sea lice.
- Our farmers use high-tension and tougher new nets to prevent predator attacks from seals or birds. Many have now introduced physical barriers such as "lice skirts" or "seal blinds" around pens to prevent unwanted guests.
- There has been major new investment in water-based treatments.
One, or a combination, of these methods and technologies increase the protection of our salmon.
Welfare: A number one priority
As well as meeting all relevant Scottish Government legislation requirements, salmon in Scotland is farmed to world class standards, including those laid out in the Code of Good Practice for Scottish Finfish Aquaculture (the Code). Importantly, the Code's 500 check points, covering every aspect of Scottish salmon farming, are independently audited.
In addition, other independent certification is sought from a range of world and leading accreditation bodies including those listed below* and many retailers also require bespoke requirements and audits to take place.
Rearing fish in the best possible conditions
Scottish farmed salmon are raised in the 'fields of the ocean'- an environment which is close to their natural habitat - much like cattle or sheep in fields around the countryside.
These natural conditions mean that they benefit from the strong Scottish tidal flow through their pens which aids activity.
Stocking density is an important factor in farming salmon. Every pen consists of 98.5 per cent water and only 1.5 per cent fish - a combination which is based on scientific research and provides plenty of space for each fish while also allowing for natural shoaling behaviour.
The results at harvest show that of all salmon processed, over 97 per cent classified as 'Superior Quality'. This quality is dependent on the whole farming process and the world-leading, robust welfare standards and practices in place are vital.
Improving the survival of farmed salmon
Caring for our fish during their marine stage can last up to around two years with the goal being for all salmon reaching harvest as planned.
In 2020, the annual average survival rate achieved for post-smolt farmed salmon was over 85% or 17 out of every 20 farmed salmon (14.5% mortality).
Challenges can vary in the natural environment and minimising losses against those challenges is a major focus for the sector. Our farmers continue to develop practices and technologies to improve survival rates. When losses do occur, each farm reports those losses in a timely manner to the authorities.
We will always strive to look after every one of our farmed fish but this record is not too dissimilar to land based agricultural losses and is notably different from the survival rate of wild salmon which experience high annual rates of mortality at sea of 65-95%*.
(*Chaput, G 2012, ICES Journal of Marine Science, Volume 69, Issue 8, November 2012)
Record low numbers of naturally occurring sea lice
Average sea lice numbers have been low for the last three years. The sector continues to invest in maintaining low numbers and providing increased transparency and publication rates of data.
Over the whole farmed salmon population in Scotland in 2020, just one adult female louse was found on every other salmon. This in itself provides no significant welfare challenge to the fish. However, when an outbreak of lice appears on a farm it is vital to act quickly to restrict the spread and minimise the impact and any suffering for the fish.
Working towards full traceability of all feed ingredients
Feed is a vital part of our supply chain to make sure our salmon receive the best diet possible. The sector has committed to full traceability of all its feed ingredients.
Marine ingredients in feed already largely come from sustainable catch marine fisheries and around one-third of marine ingredients are a by-product from trimmings.
The sector also invests in feed and monitoring technology to make efficient use of feed so that the Scottish sector minimises its impact wherever possible.
Global feed production
Production of manufactured feed; million tonnes (mT)
- Global animal feed; 1,103mT
- Global aquaculture feed; 44mT (4% of global feed)
- Global salmonid feed; 4.4mT (0.8% of aquaculture)
- Scottish salmon feed; 0.35mT (0.03% of total feed)
The Scottish salmon sector always welcomes interest in its work and encourages an open and transparent dialogue on farming salmon off the west coast and islands of Scotland.
On occasion health events happen on farms. The video below from Scottish Sea Farms illustrates the proactive and rapid measures that farmers take in order to address problems and ensure that fish are cared to the highest of standards.
Want to know more? Click here to find out more about the Scottish salmon farming sector's aim to be world leading in providing healthy, nutritious, tasty food, farmed in the most responsible and sustainable way.
(To view the above article as a PDF - click here)