New legal challenge to the "awful business" of salmon factory farming

UK government faces threat of legal action over its failure to regulate the growing fish farming industry

Lawyers representing environmental campaign group Feedback have written to the UK government in view of launching legal proceedings for its failure to regulate the growing aquaculture industry. Aquaculture is the world’s fastest-growing food production sector, and more than half of the seafood we eat today is farmed. The Scottish farmed salmon industry is the third largest worldwide. It is valued at over £1 billion and generates the UK’s largest food export by value. The sector recorded record production volumes in 2021.

Despite this, the salmon farming industry has been allowed to swim under the radar for far too long.

Feedback’s research shows that the production of 179,000 tonnes of Scottish Atlantic salmon requires 460,000 tonnes of wild-caught fish for feed, equal to the amount of fish consumed by the UK population every year. 76% of these feed fish are human-edible. This represents an inefficient use of nutritious wild fish and has disastrous impacts on food insecure countries, which supply most of the fish used by the global feed industry. Fish farming also has significant environmental impacts: a review commissioned by the Scottish Parliament of the Scottish salmon industry listed a range of issues including sea lice, disease, waste, impacts on wild salmon, and fish welfare.

Despite the size and impact of the Scottish farmed salmon industry, there are no meaningful policies proposed in the recent Joint Fisheries Statement to regulate the industry’s insatiable appetite for wild-caught fish and profits for shareholders. Climate change and overfishing are putting increasing strain on wild fish populations; while it is touted as a solution, aquaculture is in fact contributing to both of these problems, in large part due to its demand for feed fish.

Carina Millstone, Executive Director of Feedback, said: The government needs to step up to the plate and regulate the Scottish farmed salmon industry. If it is serious about delivering “world-class sustainable fisheries and aquaculture management”, it can no longer allow this industry to go unchecked as it gobbles up vast quantities of precious wild fish.

Leigh Day solicitor Rowan Smith said: “The legislation is clear that the UK government and devolved administrations were under a duty to devise policies to ensure aquaculture, including farmed salmon, doesn’t have a negative impact on climate change and marine ecosystems. However, there is no evidence in the Joint Fisheries Statement that the authorities have discharged that legal obligation. Our client hopes that a full explanation will be given, otherwise legal action may follow.”

Dale Vince founder of Ecotricity said: “Factory farming is an awful business, barely regulated, toxic to the environment and an abuse of sentient creatures - this is never more so than with aquaculture, aka fish farming. Feeding farmed salmon nearly three times their body weight in wild fish - is absurdly inefficient and hugely damaging to the natural world. Add in that up to 99% of the nutrients in the wild fish are lost in the process and it’s simply staggering that we allow this. The government needs to get to grips with toxic factory farming culture - Salmon is the very worst example of that.”