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Murky depths of the Scottish salmon industry exposed in new undercover investigation

News Section Icon Published 23/03/2021

Our new investigation into the Scottish salmon industry, released today (23rd March), uncovers the hidden suffering of salmon on an industry-wide and endemic scale, breaches in animal welfare legislation and shocking mortality rates.

Warning: Some viewers may find the following footage distressing.

 Uncovering underwater cages

Our undercover investigation - supported by a global network of 30 organisations - and accompanying report ‘Underwater Cages, Parasites & Dead Fish: Why a Moratorium on Scottish Salmon Farming Expansion is Imperative’  highlights the grim reality for many fish raised in sea cages to produce world-famous Scottish salmon.

Scottish salmon is big business. Every year, 24 to 56 million of these fish are shipped to over 50 countries – making Scotland the world’s third-largest exporter. Worryingly the Scottish government supports plans for massive industry expansion by 2030. But while the industry expands, animals pay the price.

Appalling findings

We investigated 22 farms between September and November 2020, using both drone technology and, at 6 farms, underwater divers. On several of these farms, investigators found severe sea lice infestations and high levels of mortalities. They also found fish crammed in barren underwater cages, where these natural migrators have nothing to do but swim aimlessly for up to 2 years. These animals suffer to such an extent that as many as a quarter will die before they even make it to slaughter.

The appalling findings were documented on farms owned by all five of Scotland’s largest salmon producers (Cooke Aquaculture, Grieg Seafood, Mowi, Scottish Sea Farms and The Scottish Salmon Company), which together account for over 96% of the industry.

Salmon suffering brought to the surface

“Salmon are silently suffering, out of sight, in cruel underwater factory farms across Scotland. Even the experienced investigators were shocked at what they found,” said Sophie Peutrill, our Global Campaign Manager for fish welfare. “The footage reveals salmon with deformities and disease, missing eyes and large chunks of flesh and skin being eaten away by sea lice. This is completely unacceptable.

“Salmon are sentient beings - they should not be subjected to such awful misery. There is an industry-wide failure to protect these animals, and this must change. We need an immediate halt on the continued expansion of Scottish salmon farming”

Putting pressure on the planet

Not only is salmon farming bad for animal welfare, but it is also damaging the environment. Organic and chemical waste from Scottish salmon farms is changing the chemistry of sediments and killing marine life on the seabed. Waste from farms can lead to poor water quality and harmful algal blooms. Millions of tonnes of wild-caught fish are reduced to fishmeal and fish oil in order to feed fish in intensive farms, and the list goes on.

“Given the numerous welfare and environmental issues within the Scottish salmon industry, plans to expand are completely irresponsible”, said Dr Krzysztof Wojtas, our Head of Fish Policy.

“We are calling on the Scottish Government for a moratorium on the expansion of the Scottish Salmon industry. Confining carnivorous species in underwater cages and depleting our oceans of wild fish in order to feed them, is pure madness. Ultimately, we directly challenge whether farming essentially wild, migratory fish, such as salmon, has any place in a sustainable food system.”

Call to halt troubled waters

The Scottish salmon farming industry is rife with fish welfare issues and serious environmental problems. At current production levels sea lice infestation and disease are out of control, causing fish suffering on an alarming scale and threatening wild fish populations. 

To address the issues brought to the surface by our investigation we have launched an open letter to the Scottish government, urgently calling for a moratorium on the expansion of the industry, with a view to phasing out intensive salmon farming.

Act now to stop salmon suffering

Please sign our open letter to the Scottish Government, demanding a moratorium to stop the runaway growth of Scottish salmon farming.

 

 

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