Scottish salmon scandal - where is all the money going?

Think Scottish Sea Farms is actually Scottish!? Think again...

The Scottish farmed salmon industry has been widely criticised for its environmental impact on coastal communities and damage to local wildlife. But it’s impacts are also global: Feedback’s research has highlighted that the growing industry requires 460,000 tonnes of wild-caught fish every year, exacerbating the pressure on precious wild fish stocks. This week’s latest alarming IPCC report highlights that our oceans are under threat from climate change, with vital marine ecosystems already being affected and this is going to get worse if we don’t immediately transition to sustainable management of fisheries. It’s likely there’s little place for an industry which extracts fish from one part of the world, only to feed it to farmed salmon somewhere else in a sustainable future.

Critics of the industry are often told that it is a cornerstone of the Scottish economy, particularly in terms of the employment it brings to the remote areas where salmon farms are located. But this economic contribution has been disputed, with a recent report estimating that the industry’s ‘Gross Value Added’ is potentially exaggerated by 124%, while employment could be overestimated by an incredible 251%.

We wanted to find out who owns the Scottish salmon industry - who its ultimate financial beneficiaries are - so we took a deep dive to figure out who actually profits from the Scottish salmon industry.

It turns out the industry is Scottish in name only, with all 5 major companies operating in Scotland foreign-owned. Aside from one company which is privately owned by a Canadian family, all are owned by major shareholders outside of Scotland, with several large investors standing out with major investments across several companies. These include;

  • Folketrygdfonet – Norway’s investment body which manages the government pension fund on behalf of the Ministry of Finance. They have $2 billion across four of the five major companies operating in Scotland.
  • Vanguard – (the world’s largest coal investor) has $530 million across all companies operating in Scotland.
  • Handelsbanken Asset Management – a Swedish bank has $458 million across all companies operating in Scotland.
  • DNB Asset Management – Norway’s no 1 financial services group. $370 million across 5 companies.

You can view all of the investor data here.

Zooming in on the major players -


MOWI is the largest producer of farmed Atlantic salmon in the world. MOWI is listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange and its shares also trade on theUS OTC market.

Scottish Sea Farms

Owned by SalMar and the Leroy Seafood Group ASA, both Norwegian seafood companies listed in Norway.

The Scottish Salmon Company

In 2019, the Scottish Salmon Company was bought by the Faroese firm Bakkafrost. Bakkafrost is worth more than the Faroe Islands’ GDP, its biggest shareholder is the Norwegian Pension Fund Folketrygdfonet.

Cooke Aquaculture

Cooke Aquaculture is a Canadian business owned by the Cooke family, with subsidiaries listed in Uruguay, the US and Chile.

Loch Duart

Loch Duart refers to itself as a ‘local company’, however in 2020 it was acquired by a US investment firm.

Grieg Seafood

Grieg has announced its withdrawal from Scotland, but the major player for many years is another Norwegian company, the majority owner of the company is Grieg Aqua AS (50.2 percent), a private company owned by Per Grieg Jr. and his family. Per Grieg Jr. is listed 129th on Kapital’s 2020 annual overview of the 400 richest citizens of Norway.

When the going gets tough, foreign companies get going

The reality is companies with foreign ownership have very little incentive to prioritise local interests, either environmental or community-led, except where it furthers their profit incentives. This is evidenced by the recent departure of Grieg Seafood from the Scottish market. The large Norwegian salmon firm decided to leave Scotland in 2020, stating that the Covid-19 pandemic was the reason for its decision to quit Scotland and concentrate its operations in Canada and Norway. Grieg received over £600,000 of public money in 2012, through a subsidiary. The structure of the salmon farming echoes the wider corporate food system, where large companies can extract financial value and externalise environmental costs on the local environments where they operate, as well as global impacts from emissions and degradation of global fisheries.

Transitioning towards a sustainable and truly Scottish aquaculture sector

Our research shows that it is possible to have a sustainable farmed Scottish salmon industry, at least in terms of the feed farmed salmon is fed, but it would be significantly smaller. Our modelling shows that feeding salmon on by-products (the heads, bones and other trimmings) of fish caught to be eaten by people is one way to greatly reduce its impact on nature - though that still leaves the major local impacts such as water pollution, covered in depth by other campaigners. If we ate some of the wild fish – like herring, sardines and anchovies, that is currently being fed to salmon – we could still access the same level of micronutrients produced by the Scottish salmon industry while leaving 59% of the fish caught to feed that industry in the sea. That’s over 270,000 tonnes of wild fish kept in the sea every year. Furthermore, if we introduced more ‘unfed’ aquaculture (which do not rely on external feed inputs) such as mussels, to our diets in addition to a range of small wild fish, we could leave 77% of wild fish caught to feed Scottish salmon industry in the sea, and still have a very healthy seafood diet.

As far as jobs go, you’d think that given the Scottish salmon industry is worth £878 million, dwarfing the shellfish industry at £9.5 million, it generates proportionally more jobs. Yet a simple calculation shows us that for every £1 million of industry value, the shellfish industry generates 23 jobs compared to only 2 jobs for the salmon industry. In other words, not much growth is needed in the shellfish sector to create significantly more jobs relative to the salmon sector. Mussel farming, done well, also has the potential to help clean up waters and encourage other ecosystems.

It’s time to transition to a truly sustainable Scottish aquaculture sector, one that enhances coastal communities, does not destroy our oceans and provides key nutrition for all.