Animal welfare investigators have filmed buckets of dead fish being lifted from the Scottish salmon industry’s “poster child” farm and claimed a “reporting loophole” on fish mortalities is “likely masking millions more deaths” each year.
Animal Equality UK filmed hundreds of dead fish being pulled from the waters of a fish farm called Maclean’s Nose which is run by a farmed salmon producer called Mowi.
The animal welfare group claimed its footage shows the “cruelty” of the salmon industry and that farming fish involves “nothing but misery for the animals”. It said around 11.4m fish have already died so far in 2023 with “death rates still soaring”.
Mowi responded by saying “the misrepresentation of farming activities by campaigners is staggering” and that their “end goal is to eradicate animal farming.”
Animal Equality UK filmed at Maclean’s Nose, at Loch Sunart in Ardnamurchan in early September 2023. The charity pointed out that the farm – which it described as the industry’s “poster child” – featured on BBC Countryfile when the salmon sector “boasted” that its death rate for fish at the site was within accepted levels.
Salmon farms are asked to report mortalities to the Scottish Government’s Fish Health Inspectorate (FHI) if the proportion of adult fish dying is over 1.5 per cent a week. Maclean’s Nose was below that level.
However, Animal Equality UK said these reports do not include figures of fish who have died during transit, nor deaths of so-called ‘cleaner-fish’, which are used to eat lice off of salmon.
The charity cited a Scottish Government report last year about a site at Loch Lochy run by Mowi which recorded thousands of fish deaths. The report said: “Transfer mortality, oxygen in lorry three froze that day…5,400 mortality in one delivery during transport. Fish never made it into the loch. Mortality not reported due to being during transport.”
Another government report, following a site visit in September 2022, noted that thousands of lumpfish – which eat lice that attach to salmon in net pens – had died at a Mowi farm in Stulaigh. The report said that out of 91,930 lumpfish put into the site in December 2021, only 32,680 remained, which meant there had been 59,250 deaths.
“Only two lumpfish were observed across the site and both appeared in poor physical health. They were positioned beyond the reach of the hand net so could not be caught for sampling,” the report said. “Staff had not been out with sweep nets the day of inspection.
There were a lot of visible mortalities in the majority of the cages – 10 in some and between 20 to 30 in others. The general population were very lethargic and lice were visible on some fish that were sitting high in the water column.”
Abigail Penny, executive director of Animal Equality UK, believes this “reporting loophole” means many fish deaths go unreported. “1.5 per cent sounds like a small figure, but when you consider the enormous scale of this industry you begin to realise the scale of severe suffering that goes hand-in-hand with it,” she said.
“A mortality threshold in many ways implies that it’s acceptable for a certain proportion of fish to die on farms – I’m certain that consumers would disagree. There is a lot of information being deliberately omitted from these reports and hidden entirely from the public.”
‘Unsustainable’ salmon farms
Urging the Scottish Government to stop planning permission from being granted for new fish farms, Penny added: “Images captured on farms speak volumes about just how cruel and unsustainable the Scottish salmon sector really is. The public is seeing the truth with their own eyes and are rightly outraged.”
A spokesperson for Mowi said: “Sadly, the UK has witnessed an upsurge of attacks on local farmers by vegan activists in recent months.
The misrepresentation of farming activities by campaigners is staggering, but not at all surprising, given their end goal is to eradicate animal farming. Of course, farmers strive to see 100 per cent of their animals and crops they care for survive to market.
“While average monthly survival rates of our salmon (99 per cent) are in line with land farms (eg chickens and pigs), fish that have regrettably died are retrieved daily, safely stored, and then shipped in bulk for proper disposal according to regulations. Fish mortality and other notable farming data is made available online by our company – something no other farming sector offers to the public.”
Photo credit: Animal Equality UK