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Compassion urges ASC label to reverse policy that will increase suffering of factory farmed Scottish salmon

News Section Icon Published 03/02/2023

Compassion in World Farming has today (3rd February) written to the farmed seafood certification body The Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) urging them to reverse a recent policy change that will allow millions of fish – including salmon farmed in Scotland – to endure more suffering.

The international seafood certification scheme – one of the world’s largest – has announced that, as of 1st February, its policy on sea lice will change, allowing millions of fish to suffer painful infestations before being treated. The scheme has lowered its ‘acceptable’ level for sea lice, which in Scotland could mean a shocking five-fold increase in levels.

The ASC previously defined a maximum on-farm lice level of 0.1 mature female lice per farmed fish, during sensitive periods for wild fish. However, the requirement has now been changed to align with the jurisdiction standards of the country where the farm is situated. In Scotland, the industry sets its own thresholds for treatment of sea lice, under the Code of Good Practice for Scottish Finfish Aquaculture (2015), at an average of 0.5 to 1 adult female lice per salmon (depending on the time of year). This policy change equates to a five-times increase in the permissible number of lice per farmed fish and will increase farmed salmon suffering greatly.

Sea lice are a widespread problem in farmed salmon due the animals’ close confinement. These parasites literally eat away at the fish causing painful open wounds and injuries to their gills and mouth, and can even lead to the death of infected fish.

Dr Krzysztof Wojtas, Head of Fish Policy at Compassion in World Farming, said: “The Aquaculture Stewardship Council should be improving its fish welfare standards to meet the expectations of consumers, not lowering the bar and allowing fish to suffer more.

“Last year we welcomed the introduction of basic draft welfare standards by ASC. However, this policy change is deeply disappointing and represents a significant step backwards for the scheme. It will allow farms to lower their standards on sea lice and force millions of farmed salmon to endure more suffering through painful infestations.

“Fish are sentient creatures and recent scientific research has discovered that they not only feel pain and experience fear but – like many other animals – they explore, travel, socialise, hunt and play. All farmed fish deserve to have lives worth living in environments that meet their physical, mental, and behavioural needs.

“We have written to ASC urging them to reverse this policy for the sake of the millions of fish around the world who will suffer the pain and distress its implementation will cause.”

The ASC certifies salmon farms in several other countries around the world, as well as Scotland, including Norway, Chile, Canada, Faroe Islands, Iceland, Japan, Denmark, and Australia. The protocols in place to control parasite infections are crucial to the welfare of hundreds of millions of salmon around the world every year. 

Compassion in World Farming is campaigning to get fish certification schemes to introduce welfare standards for fish. While many include sustainability standards, few have welfare standards, contrary to the expectations of many of their consumers. The four major international schemes certify around 8% of fish killed globally, which equates to many billions of fish.


For more information please email or call 01483 521 886.

  1. View the letter from Compassion in World Farming to ASC urging them to reconsider their sea lice policy change.
  2. Certification and labelling programmes have become a primary tool to address sustainability issues of farmed seafood. There are 4 farmed fish certification schemes worldwide.
  3. On 1st Sep 2022, the Aquaculture Stewardship Council’s (ASC) certification scheme opened the second and last open public consultation to its Fish Welfare project. This project aims to identify key impacts on farmed aquatic animal welfare and develop new and improved welfare standards.

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