Scotland produced a record 189,707 tonnes of salmon in 2017. © Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Scotland produced a record 189,707 tonnes of salmon in 2017. © Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Salmon farming growth threatens wild fish stocks

Plans by the Scottish salmon farming industry to double production by 2030 will impact the sustainability of wild fish stocks, according to an NGO.

Feedback said growth in the global salmon farming industry, mainly located in the North West Scottish Highlands, will hit wild fish numbers because they are used to create feedstock for farms.

The Scottish farming industry has grown by over 90% in a decade, and plans to expand by a further 100-165% by 2030, according to Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO). In the first quarter of this year salmon was the UK's biggest food export with sales of £206.5m to overseas buyers. 

The farming of Atlantic salmon requires feed containing fish oils and plant based ingredients such as soya, and vegetable oils. The fish oils are taken from wild, ocean-sourced fish harvested from European, South American and West African waters. Salmon farming also demands land use and this impacts availability of agricultural space.

Current quantities of wild fish feed are in excess of 450,000 tonnes and the estimated expansion will increase this to 770,000 tonnes, said Feedback. The NGO called for greater transparency and accountability from the industry on feed sourcing, including how, where and what types of wild fish will be sourced to meet the industry's growth. 

A panel of fishery and marine scientists has recommended that catch targets are reduced to safeguard fish populations in the ocean, said the report. While 81% of fisheries that produce fish oil are certified under the IFFO Responsible Supply Standard, the certification does not set limits on the level of fish stocks that can be exploited without long-term effects, said Feedback. 

A spokesman for the SSPO told the Scotsman: “As the salmon sector grows it is turning increasingly to other ingredients to meet the growing demand for feed, particularly plant extracts.

“As a result of all these developments, the sector is ensuring that wild fisheries remain sustainable and the farmed sector can grow sustainably as well.”

In 2018, the Scottish Rural Economic and Connectivity committee said "that if the industry is to grow, the status quo in terms of regulation and enforcement is not acceptable" and "meaningful action needs to be taken to address regulatory deficiencies as well as fish health and environmental issues before the industry can expand”.

Scotland produced 189,707 tonnes of salmon in 2017, an increase of 16.5% on the previous year. Some 99% of salmon produced in Scotland is controlled by six companies: MOWI (formerly Marine Harvest), Grieg Seafood, Scottish Sea Farms, The Scottish Salmon Company, Cooke Aquaculture, and Loch Duart.

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