As with home-grown Scotch Beef and Lamb, our Scottish farmed salmon are hatched, reared and fed in Scotland.
Every farmer’s priority is to protect their livestock and we’re investing on a huge scale – time, thought and money – to pre-empt and prevent the challenges presented by the marine environment.
We do this via a range of preventative and continual measures, supported by immediate remedial measures when needed.
This ‘prevention over cure’ approach has helped us bring about a real and measurable improvement in fish welfare, contributing to us achieving average annual survival rates of 90 per cent and above, and end of crop average survival rates of 85 per cent and above.
But we’re not resting there. In both cases, we’ve set ourselves the target of achieving 95 per cent survival.
Our work in fish welfare starts long before the freshwater hatchery or marine farm stages; it begins with selecting the salmon traits most likely to thrive in Scottish marine conditions.
We source our eggs from world-leading salmon breeders, selecting from over 20 different genetic and biological traits to help maximise resistance to common health challenges, minimise the time required at sea and deliver a higher quality product for customers.
Each batch is fully traceable and documented from egg to harvest, meaning we know exactly where each individual salmon came from.
You can read more about how we can trace our fresh farmed salmon from egg to plate here.
As part of our commitment to giving our fish the best start, we’re working with Aquagen to breed eggs from salmon grown at our own marine farms; part of a project aimed at improving overall robustness to Scottish marine conditions, increasing resistance to the health challenges that the changing environment can give rise to and future-proofing fish welfare for years to come.
You can read more about this work here.
Good husbandry is key to fish welfare and we’re proud to farm to RSPCA welfare standards for farmed Atlantic salmon and the Code of Good Practice for Scottish Finfish Aquaculture.
These set the benchmark for each and every aspect of the farming cycle: from freshwater to seawater to harvest.
Making sure these standards are being adhered to at all times, RSPCA Assured assessors independently audit each individual hatchery and marine farm, as well as well-boats and our processing facilities.
Ahead of each new crop, each farm is left fallow – in other words, without fish – for a period of six weeks or more, creating a biosecurity break between crops and giving the seabed an opportunity to replenish itself.
We’ll then equip the farm with a number of preventative and continual measures aimed at giving the new crop of fish the best possible conditions in which to grow:
Depending on the local marine conditions, our farms might also be equipped with:
Sometimes, despite all our best efforts, health challenges develop in some fish and immediate remedial action is needed.
The best course of action will depend on the particular health issue, with the two main challenges being:
The gills are central to the overall health and wellbeing of fish, and the factors affecting them are highly complex. As such, much research is underway across the sector to increase understanding of these vital organs, the key risks to gill health and how to pre-empt and avoid them.
One of the most common gill heath disorders is amoebic gill disease (AGD) which is treated by bathing the fish in freshwater or a solution of seawater and Paramove® (diluted hydrogen peroxide, as is found in every day personal care products such as eye drops, contact lens solutions and mouthwash).
You can read more about this here.
Sea lice are naturally occurring parasites that are found in the marine environment and that can attach themselves to a range of wild and farmed fish, their preferred host being salmon.
So whilst all our farmed salmon leave freshwater stage free of lice, they can be affected by them once in sea pens.
There are two main species that affect salmon:
Whilst neither species of lice is harmful to humans, they can pose an increasing challenge to the health and growth of salmon if not controlled, particularly Lepeophtheirus salmonis.
In Scotland, if a salmon has two or more adult female Lepeophtheirus salmonis (at reproductive stage) then farmers are required to notify Marine Scotland about what actions are being taken to reduce the level and demonstrate control of this environmental pest.
Previously, this would have been medicinal treatment, either in-feed with the medicine Slice® or via a bath treatment with an authorised veterinary medicine.
Due to the lack of newly developed veterinary medicines for fish however, and as part of our drive to keep the use of veterinary medicines to an absolute minimum, we’ve recently invested in two methods of physical delicing:
As with all livestock farming, veterinary medicines have an important role to play in safeguarding the welfare of our stock.
Where we do use them, they will be authorised veterinary medicines, prescribed by a qualified veterinarian and administered at an appropriate dosage that has been approved by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency and Veterinary Medicines Directorate.
You can read more about our work to reduce the use of medicines here.
Our work to enhance fish welfare doesn’t stop at salmon; we have an equal responsibility to look after the cleaner fish in our care too.
In addition to adhering to RSPCA welfare standards for cleaner fish, recent years have seen us:
When the salmon are harvested, the cleaner fish will either be relocated to another farm in accordance with the Code of Good Practice for Scottish Finfish Aquaculture, following appropriate biosecurity protocol, so that they can carry on working, or they will be euthanised humanely in accordance with RSPCA welfare standards for farmed Atlantic salmon.
You can read about how we harvest our fish here and what we’re doing to ensure we source cleaner fish in a responsible way here.
Supporting our farmers in the drive to ensure that fish live the best lives possible while in our care is a dedicated fish welfare team, led by our Head of Fish Health and Welfare and comprising a collective of in-house and external vets, regional fish health managers, cleaner fish specialists and, out on every farm, husbandry staff with specialist fish health training.
When the salmon are market-sized and ready to be transferred from their sea pens onto the well-boat – a process known as harvesting – we have a fish welfare officer present on-farm throughout.
The well-boat’s CCTV cameras record the process, along with the salmon’s journey thereafter as they are transported to our nearest processing facility.
Once there, they are processed by operatives who are fully trained in fish welfare – all of which is also recorded by CCTV – helping ensure the most humane, respectful end of life.