What is the impact of open-net salmon farms on wild fish?
Science has given a loud warning. Now we must listen.
Numbers of wild salmon and sea trout found in Scotland’s rivers have declined by 70% over the past two decades
Global populations of wild Atlantic salmon have declined significantly in recent decades – from some 8-10 million in the 1970s to just 3 million today. Some of the causes, notably climate change, are outside our control. Of those factors within our control, industrial salmon farming, which has grown exponentially since the 1970s, is probably the most impactful.
Poorly run and badly sited open-net salmon farms are putting wild fish at risk from parasites (notably sea lice) and diseases, chemical pollution and farmed fish escapes which threaten the genetic integrity of wild species, compromising their future survival.
Open-net salmon farming is fundamentally unsustainable.
WHAT CAN BE DONE TO PROTECT WILD FISH?
all open-net salmon farms should be closed.
We campaign for the closure of all existing open-net farms. We also vigorously oppose any proposed expansion of existing farms or the establishment of new farms.
It severely compromises the integrity of the marine (and freshwater) ecosystems of Scotland. To enable ecosystems the opportunity to recover, all open-net salmon farms should be closed, and the industry moved to closed containment systems (closed containment review linked here) which put a physical barrier between farmed and wild fish and the wider environment.
For two decades we have campaigned to prevent, or at least limit, the harm caused by open-net salmon farming. We have repeatedly called for tighter regulation to protect wild fish. In 2018 (a direct consequence of our parliamentary petition in 2016) two all-party Scottish Parliament committees conducted a comprehensive inquiry into salmon farming. They highlighted the continuing negative impact of salmon farming in Scotland – on the marine environment in general and wild salmon and sea trout in particular. They were unanimous in recommending fundamental changes to the way that the industry is regulated (“the status quo is not an option”).
Since then, the Scottish Government has done very little to implement the detailed recommendations of the inquiry. In July 2021 it announced a “review” of the regulation of salmon farming which will not be concluded until the end of 2023. This amounts to kicking the can, not only further down the road, but almost completely out of sight. In the meantime, it will allow and indeed encourage the industry to expand – whatever the consequences for the environment and for wild fish.
Details of the two parliamentary inquiries to consider industry reform.
ECCLR Committee Inquiry: Report
REC Committee Inquiry: Report
New Scottish Government study confirms the severe damage being done to wild salmon populations by salmon farming
Dismay at Scottish Government’s continuing refusal to address the serious environmental issues associated with Scotland’s salmon farming industry
Because of your support we've achieved:
An in-depth Scottish Parliamentary Committee Inquiry into the salmon farming industry’s impact on wild fish
A successful petition calling for stronger Government regulation, which lead to initiation of the inquiry
Our documentary on Loch Maree had a significant impact on the Committee and on social media
examples of Our work
S&TC on BBC's The One Show
S&TC on BBC Scotland's Landward
Eaten Alive: The Demise of Loch Maree
S&TC's Loch Maree film is a powerful and graphic illustration of how a poorly sited salmon farm can have a devastating impact on what was previously a prolific and entirely sustainable wild fishery.
Sea trout stocks in Loch Maree collapsed in 1988, one year after the start of salmon farming in Loch Ewe, the sea loch into which Loch Maree drains via the River Ewe.
We are working to restore what was formerly the finest sea trout fishery in Scotland. Together we can encourage reform of the industry, relieving wild fish from fish farming pressure.
Only with your help will places like Loch Maree be filled with a healthy abundance of wild fish once again.
Picture / film credits:
Gairloch Heritage Museum
NJFF-Hordaland/Gisle Sverdrup (under water sea trout footage)
Alv Arne Lyse (sea trout pictures and farmed salmon)
With thanks to:
Wester Ross Area Salmon Fisheries Board
Wester Ross Fisheries Trust
what can you do to help?
Start in the supermarket.
Our campaigning has lead to full disclosure of which salmon farms are not keeping their lice under control. To date, no meaningful enforcement action, such as the ordering of culls or immediate reductions in fish-farm biomass, has been taken against serial offenders.
The Scottish Government has a legal duty to protect and conserve wild salmon and sea trout, but this data shows it is failing to rein in the biggest threat to wild salmonids.
Is salmon on your menu?
Help secure a sustainable future for wild fish
Resources & Documents Archive
Our work, lobbying and research is extensive and complex; if you want to dive deeper into the details then please explore our document archive below:
Our written evidence to Scottish Parliamentary Committees' Inquiries into salmon farming.
Our critique of Scottish Government's regulation of sea lice within salmon farms - sent to all heads of delegation within the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO).
We rely on your support to protect wild fish and the places they live.
By donating or joining as a member you will be making a huge contribution to the fight to protect the UK's waters and ensure a sustainable future for wild fish.