Can we have our farmed salmon and eat it too?

30th Nov 18 by Christina O'Sullivan

There is mis-match between the salmon industry’s desire for expansion and the ceiling on wild fish available for feed.

Aquaculture has been hailed as the ‘blue revolution’ – a supposedly sustainable source of protein to feed our ever-growing population. In the last 40 years fish farming has gone from providing just 5% of the world’s fish to nearly 50%, and that growth shows no signs of stopping.

Scottish salmon is marketed as a premium, high-quality product – think of supermarket branding of Scottish salmon and what comes to mind? Wild, pristine, and wind-swept Lochs and rivers? The sad truth is Scottish fish farming is causing significant local environmental damage to one of the wildest and beautiful coasts in Europe. The industry also has impacts around the world through the sourcing of wild fish to make farmed salmon feed. The Scottish Rural Economic and Connectivity committee has just released a report on salmon farming in Scotland. The report highlights that the status quo is not sustainable and calls for the industry to take urgent and meaningful action or halt expansion. Yet the Scottish Salmon industry stands by its plans for a radical expansion by 2030 – where will this leave Scotland’s wildlife and landscapes, and the livelihoods which depend on them?

The report recognises the severe local negative environmental impacts such as pollution of the seabed by fish farm chemicals used to address issues like sea lice – a major welfare concern for farmed fish. It also noted the high mortality rates of farmed salmon: the Scottish salmon industry wasted 10 million fish in 2016. Unfortunately, the committee did not conclude that these impacts warrant a moratorium on expansion. It seems to us that the industry needs to stop focusing on expansion and consider how – and if – it can produce salmon in a sustainable way.


A key sustainability issue for the Scottish salmon industry is the feed required to produce farmed salmon. Salmon farming relies on significant quantities of fish meal produced from wild fish to feed fish, including krill fished from the pristine Antarctic. There are reports that overfishing in the seas of Mauritania and Senegal are causing major challenges for local livelihoods. Plainly, there is mis-match between the industry’s desire for expansion and the ceiling on wild fish available for feed, one that needs to be addressed before the industry can claim ‘sustainability’ with any credibility.  The REC report argues that the precautionary principle should be adopted to protect wild salmon stocks in Scotland – this approach should extend beyond the waters of Scotland. We need to protect our wild fisheries as well.  Business as usual is not an option, the farmed salmon industry needs to stop focusing on short-term expansion and instead look at long-term sustainability.


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