A new report for S&TC Scotland on RSPCA Assured certification of Scottish farmed salmon reveals that Scottish salmon farming mortalities as a percentage of total production have almost doubled in the last four years.
On the basis of official data, the report estimates that over 41 million fish died during 2015 and 2016, an average of over 20 million fish per annum.
With 67% of the industry signed up to the RSPCA Assured certification scheme, pro rata, this mortality would equate to approximately 27 million fish dying on RSPCA Assured farms in 2015 and 2016, although, as those RSPCA Assured farms are not named by the RSPCA, the exact figures cannot be known.
Andrew Graham-Stewart, Director of S&TC Scotland, said:
"There is no doubt that the RSPCA Assured logo on packets of Scottish farmed salmon is intended to persuade supermarket customers that what they are buying is consistently reared with high standards of animal husbandry and protection for the wider marine environment.
The shocking level of mortalities apparent across the industry, including on RSPCA Assured farms, casts severe doubt on whether RSPCA Assured is much more than a fig leaf, both in terms of the welfare of the farmed fish and the wider environmental performance of the fish farming industry.
We fear that consumers are left in the dark both about the welfare of the farmed salmon, but also about the environmental impact of the fish farms producing these fish."
Mr Graham-Stewart added:
"The alarming incidence of parasites and disease on the fish farms, which causes many of these mortalities, also has major implications for wild fish outside the farms, particularly the huge numbers of juvenile sea lice released from the farms into the sea lochs where they infest wild salmon and sea trout."
Guy Linley-Adams, solicitor for S&TC Scotland's salmon farming campaign, said:
"The doubling of the rate of mortalities over the last four years should be prompting the Scottish Government to ask serious questions of the industry and we look to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee to fully address this issue within their recently announced Inquiry into the salmon farming industry, a direct result of S&TC Scotland's detailed Petition to the Scottish Parliament last year.
The RSPCA should also re-consider urgently its endorsement of Scottish salmon farming and ask itself whether lending support to an industry with this level of mortalities and serious environmental impact, is really compatible with their charitable objectives."
The full report "RSPCA Assured certification of Scottish farmed salmon" is available here
We recently wrote to the RSPCA. The letter concluded:
"While S&TC Scotland fully respects the RSPCA's remit in matters of animal welfare, it is disappointed to note that the very weak environmental standards within the welfare standards applied to farmed salmon continue to be applied and do nothing to address the myriad problems of salmon farms to which S&TC Scotland, and S&TA before it, has tried to alert you. A report will be published very shortly, but our clear view is that the RSPCA Assured scheme should now be suspended, pending what should be an open review."
We have received no response.