Salmon farmers with the worst records on animal welfare have been named and shamed by campaigners hoping to provoke


The Scottish animal charity, OneKind, has drawn up league tables ranking the performance of companies and individual fish farms on death rates, overcrowding, lice infestations, seal shooting and escapes in 2017.

Firms criticised for their alleged poor standards include Loch Duart, Marine Harvest, The Scottish Salmon Company and Grieg Seafoods Shetland. The farm labelled as having the worst record for fish welfare was Poll na Gille on Loch Shuna in Argyll, run by Marine


Other caged salmon farms ranked highly for “negative welfare” included MacLean’s Nose at Kilchoan in Highland, Bagh dail nan Cean in Argyll, Vuiabeag off the Isle of Lewis, Badcall Bay in Sutherland, Loch Carnan off South Uist and Inch Kenneth in Argyll (see table and map).

OneKind said that fish were suffering and called on salmon farmers to “urgently up their game”. The fish-farming industry, however, insisted that campaigners had failed to accurately reflect “the care taken at farms to ensure good animal welfare”.

Farmed salmon are Scotland’s biggest food export but have been hit in recent years by disease and lice problems. Plans to double the business from £1.8 billion in 2016 to £3.6bn by 2030 are under investigation by MSPs at Holyrood. OneKind examined publicly-available data for 185 salmon farms operating in Scotland in 2017. The group has also funded an investigation by the journalists’ co-operative, The Ferret (, which is publishing a series of reports on the fish-farming industry this week.

OneKind used five criteria to give each company and each fish farm a negative animal welfare score, with higher numbers indicating what they contend are poorer performances. One criterion was the number of fish dying prematurely from disease, parasites, stress or other causes.

The Sunday Herald reported last October that the industry threw away 10 million fish in 2016, and it’s thought the death toll rose to 11 million in 2017. According to OneKind: “High mortality levels indicate severe welfare problems on salmon farms, as death is rarely instantaneous”.

A second criterion was farms breaching limits on the maximum weight of fish allowed in cages. This reduced the space available to each fish and could cause aggression, spread disease more quickly and reduce water quality, said OneKind.

Poll na Gille salmon farm was said to have breached biomass limits set by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) six times in 2017, sometimes up to 50 per cent.

Farms were marked down if the number of sea lice eating salmon exceeded the “trigger level” of three female lice per fish. Lice can cause suffering, disease and death.

OneKind also counted the number of seals shot by farmers to prevent them eating salmon. Fewer seals were being shot than in the past, but 49 were killed in 2017 by 26 salmon farms, with nine shot at Loch Carnan by the Loch Duart company.

Another measure used was the number of fish that escaped from their cages because of equipment failures and storms. Farmed salmon can be deaf and have deformed hearts and spines, argued OneKind, meaning they will struggle to survive in the wild.

The company rated worst was Loch Duart, given a negative animal welfare score of four for its 10 salmon farms. Marine Harvest was second-worst, with a score of 3.1 for 37 farms, followed by The Scottish Salmon Company with 2.5 for 41 farms, and Grieg Seafoods Shetland with 2.3 for 18 farms.

OneKind commended two companies for having very low scores – Wester Ross Fisheries and Cooke Aquaculture – and urged others to learn from them. “This reveals an enormous gap between the best farms and the worst offenders,” said OneKind director, Harry Huyton.

“We hope that these league tables, which OneKind will update annually, will act as a serious reminder to the industry that they must urgently up their game when it comes to fish welfare, and to encourage salmon farming companies to address these challenges.”

Huyton argued that it was possible for salmon farms to operate without serious animal welfare breaches. “We hope that this report is a serious

wake-up call to the sector as a whole and particularly to those companies that are dragging the industry down by letting their salmon suffer and needlessly killing seals,” he said.

But the chief executive of the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO), Julie Hesketh-Laird, disagreed. “Our members work tirelessly to ensure salmon is reared in a sustainable manner to high welfare standards,” she said.

“Fish health and maintaining a high quality and diverse environment in which fish are raised are of paramount importance and underpin the success of salmon farming businesses and the jobs they support.”

Compassion in World Farming, however, urged the salmon industry to take fish welfare more seriously. “The entirety of the salmon farming industry generates environmental and animal welfare concerns,” said the campaign group’s head of fish policy, Dr Krzysztof Wojtas. “Mass mortalities, parasite infestations and animal escapes should not be a regular part of any farming system. Unfortunately, at the moment they are a reality for many salmon farms.”

The industry’s massive expansion plans were “shocking”, he argued. “This report proves that our welfare concerns are fully justified and need to be addressed as soon as possible, certainly before any sort of expansion takes place.”

Scottish Greens environment spokesperson Mark Ruskell MSP warned salmon farming’s image as a clean, natural producer was falling apart. “Consumers are increasingly demanding better welfare standards and transparency across the food sector,” he said. “The salmon farming industry and the Scottish Government must deal with the underlying problems which are driving disease and poor welfare, or face a collapse in consumer confidence.”

The SSPO's Hesketh-Laird pointed out fish farmers had to deal with naturally occurring environmental challenges as well as predators which could harm the welfare of farm-raised salmon. The industry was investing “significantly” in research and innovation on these issues. She said: “Not all of the key indicators chosen by OneKind accurately reflect the care taken at farms to ensure good animal welfare. For example, overall fish biomass is not a relevant indicator as all our members’ farms are committed to a comfortable stocking density for salmon.”

Each net pen held just two per cent fish at maximum density, letting them shoal naturally, she added: “Aquaculture is a tightly regulated food production sector with a strong requirement

for transparency of information.

“Our members will continue to work to meet the highest regulatory standards, exceeding mandatory requirements wherever possible, and, in individual instances where incidents do occur, will work to improve and embed learnings into future practices.”

Marine Harvest and The Scottish Salmon Company said they supported SSPO’s statement and declined to comment further. Cooke Aquaculture did not comment. The Loch Duart company stressed it was “immensely proud” of its record on fish welfare and for helping to introduce standards from the UK RSPCA into Scottish salmon farming. The firm’s managing director, Alban Denton, said: “Our fish receive the highest-quality feed, high in marine content; lower-density pens; minimal handling; and are virtually sea lice-free currently and demonstrating very strong health.”

Grieg Seafood Shetland insisted it was a responsible farmer committed to ensuring the highest standards of health and welfare across all its farms. “We have a demonstrable track record in innovation and investment and have adopted an integrated and sustainable approach to disease management,” said managing director Grant Cumming.

“Our focus is to first prevent disease from occurring and then, if it does occur, to ensure the welfare of the fish through responsible and effective treatment. We are working hard to ensure our fish have a high quality of life and will continue to work positively with all the regulators of Scottish fish farming to ensure we have a sustainable


TABLE ONE: The 12 fish farms rated worst for animal welfare

Fish farm / company / negative welfare score

Poll na Gille, Argyll / Marine Harvest / 11

MacLeans Nose, Kilchoan, Highland / Marine Harvest / 9

Bagh dail nan Cean, Argyll / Marine Harvest / 9

Vuiabeag, Isle of Lewis / The Scottish Salmon Company / 9

Badcall Bay, Sutherland / Loch Duart / 8

Loch Carnan, South Uist / Loch Duart / 8

Inch Kenneth, Argyll / The Scottish Salmon Company / 8

Basta Ness, Shetland / Cooke Aquaculture / 6

Cloudin, Shetland / Cooke Aquaculture / 6

North Havra, Shetland / Grieg Seafoods Shetland / 6

Calva Bay, Sutherland / Loch Duart / 6

Loch a Chairn Bhain, Highland / Loch Duart / 6

TABLE TWO: Fish farms companies ranked on animal welfare

Company / number of fish farms / negative welfare score

Loch Duart / 10 / 4

Marine Harvest / 37/ 3.1

The Scottish Salmon Company / 41 / 2.5

Grieg Seafoods Shetland / 18 / 2.3

Kames Fish Farming / 1 / 2

Scottish Sea Farms / 42 / 1.6

Cooke Aquaculture / 33 / 1.3

Wester Ross Fisheries / 3 / 0

Source: OneKind