Scottish Government inspectors have launched an investigation into video evidence of alleged animal cruelty at a salmon farm on the north west coast.
Pictures of injured and unhealthy-looking caged salmon in Loch Shieldaig by Aird Ardheslaig in Torridon have been released by an anti-fish farming campaign group, Scottish Salmon Watch.
The group claims the fish are suffering, and is demanding they be slaughtered immediately to “put them out of their misery”. It has lodged a formal complaint with the government’s Fish Health Inspectorate, as well as Police Scotland and the UK’s Animal and Plant Health Agency.
The Scottish Salmon Company, which operates the Loch Shieldaig fish farm, says that it has not had a chance to examine the video. But it stresses that “fish health and welfare is fundamental to responsible salmon farming and intrinsic in our operations”.
A spokesperson for the Scottish Government told The Ferret: “Our Fish Health Inspectorate has received a complaint from a member of the public, regarding the welfare of farmed fish. We have discussed the complaint with Police Scotland and the Animal and Plant Health Agency and are investigating.”
On 8 June Scottish Salmon Watch director, Don Staniford, said he filmed underwater at three salmon cages in Loch Shieldaig. He filed a complaint alleging “welfare abuse, unnecessary suffering and cruelty” on 11 June.
He was “mortified to witness farmed salmon gasping for air at the surface and covered in white lesions with visible damage to snouts, eyes, tails, fins and flanks,” said his complaint.
“Scottish Salmon Watch believes that the farmed salmon should be immediately slaughtered in order to put an end to their misery. We also believe there is sufficient evidence to launch a prosecution against The Scottish Salmon Company.”
Staniford claimed that his video footage was “graphic evidence” of breaches to Scottish animal welfare law for unnecessary suffering and cruel operations. “Such damage has occurred over a sustained period and has not just happened overnight – this is clearly as case of prolonged suffering and months of ongoing agony,” he argued.
“Cramming the king of fish in lice-infested cages is a welfare nightmare straight out of a Frankenfish horror story. Disease-ridden Scottish salmon belong in the bin not the shopping basket.”
On 10 June a large boat called the Artic Sea Service was photographed by local residents alongside the salmon cages in Loch Shieldaig. According to an article in Salmon Business, it is equipped with a “delousing system” to suck off the sea lice that often plague farmed fish.
More boats thought to carry equipment to tackle lice have also been seen at the site since. The Scottish Salmon Company is seeking to expand production in Loch Sheildaig – and conservation and community groups have objected.
Staniford’s allegations were backed by the animal welfare organisation, Compassion in World Farming. “I’ve been working on fish welfare issues for thirty years now and, looking at these photos, I am shocked anew,” said the group’s chief executive, Philip Lymbery.
“It reinforces my view that industrial salmon rearing is little more than factory farming at sea. Confined in vast numbers, these natural ocean wanderers have little choice but to swim in small circles liked caged tigers, all too often becoming diseased, riddled with parasites and wearing themselves sore in the process.”
Lymbery added: “It is beyond time for urgent action to stop this animal welfare tragedy unfolding along Scotland’s otherwise quiet and picturesque coastline.”
John Robins from the Scottish campaign group, Animal Concern, described the suffering as “shocking” and “totally unacceptable”. He criticised the Scottish Government for failing to police the salmon farming industry.
“Officials have gone to extraordinary lengths to help salmon farmers hide the sick reality of their filthy floating factory farms. I want these fish humanely killed within 24 hours and the owners prosecuted, he said.
“I ask the Scottish Government for an immediate moratorium on their planned massive expansion of salmon farming. Salmon farming is cruel, polluting, unsustainable, damaging to wildlife.”
In September 2018 The Ferret reported that video clips of scarred and frayed salmon in cages in Loch Roag off the island of Lewis prompted animal cruelty investigations. Since then the fish farming industry has been under mounting pressure from MSPs and campaigners to improve animal welfare and cut pollution.
The UK government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency did not comment on individual cases. “We take potential breaches of animal welfare legislation very seriously and investigate all allegations,” said a spokesperson.
“Where welfare regulations are breached, appropriate action is taken. The local authority, as the appropriate enforcement agency, may initiate prosecution action for welfare offences.”
Police Scotland referred inquiries to the Scottish Government.
The Scottish Salmon Company could not confirm the video was filmed at Loch Shieldaig. “We have not had an opportunity to examine or verify the video footage and photographs in question and there is no evidence to suggest they are from one of our sites, therefore we are unable to comment on them or their authenticity,” said a company spokeswoman.
“What we can say is that fish health and welfare is fundamental to responsible salmon farming and intrinsic in our operations. Salmon farming is the most highly regulated farming sector in the UK and our sites are regularly audited by a range of bodies, including Marine Scotland, Marine Scotland Science, the Fish Health Inspectorate and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.”
She added: “We work tirelessly to ensure our salmon is reared sustainably to high welfare standards in accordance with stringent statutory requirements.”
The company’s website says: “We are committed to the highest standards of animal husbandry in all our operations, adhering to the independently audited Code of Good Practice for Scottish Finfish Aquaculture, which covers all aspects of farm production. We have a team of highly motivated and professional veterinarians and biologists who take the welfare of the stock under their care extremely seriously.”