Aquaculture for all

Activist's fish welfare allegations receive robust dismissal from Mowi

Atlantic Salmon Welfare +3 more

A new allegation of welfare issues in the Scottish salmon farming sector does not represent the health of the fish populations raised at its farms, says Scotland's largest salmon aquaculture company Mowi.

A fish health inspection at Mowi Scotland's salmon farm at Bagh Dail nan Ceann (BDNC), in Loch Shuna

© Mowi Scotland

According to Mowi Scotland, activist Don Staniford entered private salmon pens at the company's site at Bagh Dail nan Ceann (BDNC), in Loch Shuna, on 16 and 17 July, with an underwater camera – to target individual fish showing signs of distress.

Similar allegations filed in March of this year triggered an investigation by The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSCPA). After a physical inspection by RSPCA Assured auditors and consideration of the complaint received, the third-party animal welfare organisation found no evidence to support the claims made by activists.

“As is the case with all types of farming, there will unfortunately be times when individual animals are in distress, and these isolated examples can be understandably concerning to the public as well as the farmer. Farmers and veterinarians will do whatever they can to treat animals under their care, or, when circumstances require it, may have to choose to humanely euthanise the animal,” said Mowi in a press release.

“The vast amount of swimming area afforded to salmon in net pens (typically >25,000 cubic metres of space) does present difficulty in immediately tracking and tending to individuals that may flee when approached. Mowi is investing in technology that will help address this issue. Mowi’s “Smart Farming 4.0” includes underwater sensors that will automate animal welfare tracking, alerting experts in real time should extra care and attention be required,” they added.

Almost 99 percent of the salmon harvested from the site where the alleged welfare breaches took place were graded as being of a superior quality, suggesting excellent health conditions

One of the farms targeted by Staniford sent fish for market on the same day he filed an animal welfare complaint (19 July) to the RSPCA and the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA). A total of 8,940 salmon weighing an average of 5.71 kilograms each were harvested from BDNC. According to Mowi, the quality of these salmon from the farm yielded excellent results – over 98.8 percent of those graded by experts for scale quality and general condition were classified as being of “superior” grade.

As part of a regular fish welfare inspection, veterinarian Jaime Santana attended the processing of BDNC salmon on 19 July at Mowi’s Blar Mhor processing plant in Fort William and commented: “The salmon are in really great condition with acceptable parasite load, good integrity of the skin, and are receiving a high rate of salmon being categorised as superior.”

Ben Hadfield, COO of Mowi Scotland, added: “We care very much for the welfare of our salmon, every day, and don’t like to see even one animal suffer. Our experienced farmers are supported by fish health experts and veterinarians that help to ensure animal welfare is attended to every day, and these results are inspected by professional third-party organisations.

“While we take claims of poor welfare very seriously, this allegation is from an individual who has never worked in the business, has failed his schooling, has previously made similar unsupported claims, has been found guilty of defamation and was described by the court judge as a ‘zealot’. If he wants a job as an animal welfare inspector, he should apply for work like everyone else.”

Mowi says that it will continue to share information with third-party animal welfare organisations and welcomes auditors to its farms for planned and unplanned visits. The company adds that it will continue to deploy teams of staff to farms that, during warm summers when increasing water temperatures challenge fish health, will focus on treating or humanely removing individual fish that show signs of distress.