Million-pound Scottish salmon farming industry deemed unsustainable

By: Manuel Cardo

Andrew Graham-Stewart, director of Scottish Salmon and Trout Conservation, called the Scottish open cage salmon industry “unsustainable”.

Independent and governmental agencies have been regularly raising concerns over the industry’s environmental footprint and animal welfare practices since 1999. In 2018 alone, a journalistic investigation showed video of sick fish, two parliamentary inquiries damned the industry’s environmental record and lack of proper regulation and most recently a report from an animal welfare Charity, OneKind, criticized  the use of cleaner fish as a treatment for sea lice, as these animals were,themselves, getting infected.  Mr.Graham-Stewart called the latter situation, “questionable on many levels.” OneKind Director Bob Elliot said, “We remain very concerned regarding the seemingly endless welfare issues concerning the expansion of salmon farms in Scotland.”

With yearly profits of around 600 million pounds, the industry counts with government backing, having recently received green light for further expansion, after MSPs rejected a call for a moratorium on any new developments, albeit with a suggestion for tighter control and reworked legislation.

Mr. Graham-Stewart said, “Open cage salmon farming causes great environmental damage it is responsible for very significant declines in wild salmon and sea trout populations. The current modus operandi is not sustainable. They can no longer control, all too often, disease and sea lice.”

Open cage fish farming consists of holding the animals inside nets deployed in natural hydric resources. The high concentration of Salmon in such a small space is idyllic for the spread of disease and the development of parasites, like sea lice. This often requires the usage of chemicals to keep the fish healthy in captivity, which have been showed to be deadly for some of the autochthonous wildlife.  

Some countries, like Norway, the U.S and China have adopted a closed containment method of fish farming. This technique requires a bigger investment, but because it is physically and biologically isolated from the natural hydric resources it has virtually no environmental impact.

Mr. Graham-Stewart said, “The future for salmon farming needs to be close containment.

You get complete biological and physical isolation between the farm fish and the environment outside.” He added, “The costs of close containment are getting smaller. It’s a practice which is growing considerably in other parts of the world. If Scotland doesn’t adopt it soon, it’s going to be left behind.”

On the current state of the Scottish open cage salmon farming industry, Mr. Graham-Stewart commented, “You’ve got two parliamentary inquiries saying that the status quo is not an option. Both the parliamentary inquiries published this year are damning of the industry’s environmental record and lack of proper regulation.” The Scottish Government said: “All farmed fish are protected by the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, which places a duty on farms to ensure needs are met.”

Listen below to the full interview with Andrew Graham-Stewart, director of Scottish Salmon and Trout Conservation.

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