Lawyers have written to the Scottish Government accusing it of “causing illegality” by leaving “the fox in charge of the hen house” and failing to protect farmed salmon from welfare abuses.
The Animal Law Foundation (ALF) – a UK legal charity – claims that Scotland’s fish farming industry is not always complying with laws and that salmon are “not adequately protected within the current framework in Scotland”.
A lack of official guidance has “led to confusion and uncertainty” within the industry, the lawyers argue, with farmers “evidently struggling to understand” how to meet their legal responsibilities. Self regulation has failed, ALF claims.
However, Salmon Scotland – the trade body representing Scotland’s farmed salmon producers – said it “absolutely refutes” the claim that farms are not complying with their legal obligations. The Scottish Government said it takes the welfare of farmed animals “very seriously”.
In its letter to the government, the ALF says covert investigations have exposed welfare abuses at Scottish fish farms including “painful sea lice infestations, disease, killing [fish] without [them] being properly stunned, and salmon swimming for “endless months in cramped, barren cages”.
The charity is urging the Scottish Government to issue official guidance so farmers know how to meet their legal obligations to protect the fish they farm.
The ALF acknowledges that fish have legal protections in Scotland under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006.
However, the ALF argues these protections are “open to interpretation” and that the farmed salmon industry’s Code of Good Practice “does not contain information on how to comply with the law”.
Vanessa Johansson, of the ALF, told The Ferret it is “unacceptable that the industry effectively regulates itself”. She said: “The welfare of farmed fish is a critical issue that demands our attention. Official guidance is needed to ensure that legal compliance is understood and non-compliance is enforced.”
Johansson also said the ALF supports a recent recommendation from the Animal Welfare Committee, as reported by The Ferret, which calls on governments to put regulations in place to protect fish welfare during slaughter and killing.
Dr Iain Berrill, head of technical at Salmon Scotland, claimed that Scottish salmon farmers “already meet the highest animal health and welfare standards anywhere on the globe”.
He said: “In just one example, all farm-raised Scottish salmon are stunned and slaughtered in seconds, in harvest stations that are independently certified by the RSPCA and covered by CCTV to ensure that humane slaughter standards are met or exceeded.”
Berrill added that he welcomed publication of the animal welfare committee’s report, and that Scottish Salmon “will continue to support them and others to ensure any legislation is appropriate to our sector.”
A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said ministers expect “high standards of fish welfare” in line with legislation and industry codes of good practice.
They said the UK Government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency is responsible for investigating potential breaches in welfare law, adding that the Scottish Government’s fish health inspectorate liaises with it when appropriate.
“We expect producers in Scotland to drive mortality to the lowest possible levels,” the spokesperson added.“We are working closely with the sector, regulators, innovation centres and fish vets to reduce mortality where possible.”
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