Last month, WildFish launched a new campaign calling on chefs and restaurants to take farmed salmon off their menus
Farmed salmon has become an increasingly popular dish, in restaurants and at home. But this popularity has come at a cost to the environment, fish welfare and the health of the planet.
Since 2000, the number of Atlantic salmon in Scottish rivers has declined by 70%. This decline in biodiversity is one part of the climate emergency that we face as a planet. There are a number of factors contributing to declining wild Atlantic salmon; one factor that could, and should, be tackled immediately is the negative impact of open-net salmon farms.
The evidence of the destructive and unsustainable nature of salmon farming is mounting. According to the industry's own reporting, on average 1 in 4 fish dies before it reaches harvest. This is the reality of farmed salmon production in Scotland.
Our new campaign, Off the table (offthetable.org), brings together a coalition of UK and international charities, to raise awareness of the massive environmental, sustainability and welfare issues linked to open-net salmon farming. We want you to get involved – join our pledge to not eat farmed salmon and ask your local chefs and restaurants to take farmed salmon off their menus.
The Scottish salmon industry is incredibly good at using the images of pristine lochs to promote its product – but the truth is somewhat less palatable, and our new campaign brings this message to chefs, restaurants and diners.
In contrast to other types of intensive farming, farmed salmon are in constant contact with the surrounding marine environment, due to the free flow of water through the nets in which they are raised. This gives rise to a number of issues, including exposure to infectious diseases, harmful water conditions and parasites – such as sea lice. These conditions significantly contribute to the unacceptably high mortality rates reported by the Scottish salmon farming industry.
Since 2002, when published records began, there has been no improvement in farmed salmon survival rates;** in September alone of this year, 2.8 million salmon died prematurely on Scottish salmon farms**. More than 80% of these deaths were linked to the conditions and diseases fish are exposed to in the open nets they are farmed.
Not only is the high industry mortality rate a welfare concern, but a sustainability one. Fish dying prematurely must be disposed of, often via landfill and incinerators. These disposal methods increase the carbon footprint of salmon farming; as does the feed that these fish had been given.
Salmon are fed wild-caught fish, mostly caught in the Global South, 90% of which could be eaten directly. A recent report calculated that, in 2019, the largest farmed Atlantic salmon producer Mowi used 880,000 tonnes of wild fish, sourced from countries such as Peru and Mauritania, to produce just 436,000 tonnes of farmed salmon.
In addition to the huge volumes of wild fish required to feed farmed salmon, millions of so-called ‘cleaner fish’, commercially grown or taken from the wild, are stocked in the nets alongside the salmon, in theory to help control sea lice levels. There is conflicting evidence as to how effectively these fish clean sea lice off farmed salmon. What is clear, however, is that these fish are killed at the end of a production cycle, despite some species living for as long at 27 years in the wild. Every year, across the salmon farming industry, millions of these fish die or are culled, reaching the same disposal destination as the 13.5 million salmon that died prematurely over the last production cycle in Scotland.
Cleaner fish are often exposed to the same chemical treatments that are used on the farmed salmon – sometimes with fatal consequences. Due to the frequently high levels of sea lice on Scottish salmon farms, the industry treats infested farmed salmon with chemicals known to be toxic to crustaceans, such as lobsters and crabs, within a 39km radius (AMX, Deltamethrin). These chemicals, as well as those used for other conditions such as the carcinogenic chemical Formaldehyde, are released into surrounding waters.
The Scottish salmon farming industry’s reliance on chemicals also extends into its increasing use of antibiotics. In 2021 a staggering 8.9 tonnes of antibiotics were used on Scottish salmon farms. Added to the fish feed, this risks further damage to the surrounding environment and antibiotic resistance. With antibiotic usage far higher than in battery chickens, salmon farming is the only livestock farming industry in the UK to report increasing antibiotic usage trends. An industry that is relying on increasing amounts of antibiotics is fundamentally unsustainable.
As we run up to Christmas, the ubiquitous smoked salmon appears on almost every menu – but change is coming. There is a growing movement of chefs and restaurants that have already chosen to eschew farmed salmon. We want to grow this movement, to demonstrate once and for all that there’s no place for farmed salmon on a sustainable menu.