CAMPAIGNERS have reiterated calls for a moratorium on new salmon farms in Scotland after data revealed the scale of mortality in the industry.
Figures compiled by campaign group Inside Scottish Salmon Feedlots (ISSF) show that mortality rates on individual farms reached as high as 78 per cent last year.
While the industry claims that the overall stock mortality sits at 14.5%, animal rights and environmental campaigners believe that the high death rate on some farms shows that better regulation is needed.
The Scottish Government said it is committed to improving fish health and welfare across Scotland and would not support a moratorium on expansion of the fish farming industry.
However, the Scottish Green Party said the issue is a threat to Scotland’s reputation as a place of quality food and drink.
Ariane Burgess MSP, the party’s rural affairs spokesperson, said: “Any system of farming that has such a high level of livestock mortality is demonstrably failing.
“In addition to the appalling welfare standards, pollution and risk to biodiversity, these practices also threaten Scotland’s reputation as a place of quality food and drink.
“It’s time that a moratorium is placed on expansion of salmon farming until the industry genuinely faces up to these serious challenges.” The fish farm which recorded the 78% mortality rate was Leinish farm, off the coast of the Isle of Skye.
It had suffered a jellyfish attack, which accounted for the high death rate and has now been sold off to another company.
Several other sites also recorded mortality rates above 40%.
The industry claims that salmon in the wild has a mortality rate of 99.5%, much higher than that of farmed salmon.
However, the ISSF believes fish deaths on some farms remain too high and policies should be introduced to reduce stocking densities on farms with mortality rates greater than 20%.
Animal charity OneKind said it also supports the call for a moratorium on the creation of new salmon farms.
Charity spokeswoman Eve Massie said: “Scotland’s salmon farming industry is rife with animal suffering. More than 38 million fish are confined to filthy and overcrowded cages, where disease, injuries and death are commonplace. “The industry needs radical reform and innovation is necessary to provide the fish with a better quality of life. Better regulation must begin with enforcement of existing rules. But welfare standards must be improved drastically too, to tackle widespread issues such as high mortality rates, disease, sea lice infestations, and lack of enrichment.”
The ISSF tables show that many farms have very low death rates, with 25 farms recording rates less than 10%.
The Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation some of the higher rates may be down to challenging sea conditions.
An SSPO spokesman said: “Scottish, farm-raised salmon is the most open and transparent livestock sector in the country.
“For years, the sector has been voluntarily publishing its survival figures – partly to prove that we are proud of what we do and partly to show how much progress we have made on the survival rates of wild fish which are often less than 1%.
“Scotland’s salmon farmers are skilled professionals who care deeply about their fish and work year-round to ensure their salmon benefit from the highest health and welfare standards, just as traditional farmers do with their cattle, sheep or poultry.
“Yet despite their best efforts, sadly mortality rates can spike in certain circumstances, usually because of challenging biological conditions in the sea.”
A Scottish Government spokesman added: “The Scottish Government does not support a moratorium on the expansion of the fish farming industry.
“We agreed with the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee and Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform inquiries that the status quo was not an option and committed to improving fish health and welfare in Scotland through the farmed fish health framework, co-produced with industry.
“The framework, the sector has delivered a leading and transparent mortality reporting system and earlier this year we introduced sea lice reporting legislation. We continue to work with the sector to provide a strategic, evidence-based approach to improvements in fish health.
“Our 100 day commitment highlights our ambition to the continuous improvement of our aquaculture regulatory regime to ensure that it remains as efficient and effective as possible and we will make further announcements in due course.”