Salmon farms around Oban will be the first in Scotland to be targeted by campaigners planning a nationwide protest amid growing concerns about the industry.

Environmental and animal welfare groups are to carry out their own tests on the public waters around salmon farms, as they call for the industry to address fears over disease and animal welfare issues.

The peaceful protest follows  a 43,000-name petition calling on the Scottish Government to make emergency inspections of salmon farms.

Don Staniford, director of environmental campaign group Scottish Salmon Watch, which is coordinating a nationwide citizen science action plan at farms around the Scottish coast, said: “The Oban area will be the first one this weekend. We will leave Dunstaffnage Marina, outside Oban, with people swimming and in kayaks and we will be sampling effluent across salmon farm cages.

“We will sample the effluent around salmon farms and conduct some citizen science.”

He claimed: “Over 50 per cent of farmed salmon tested by the Scottish Government have got a virus and will have all kinds of toxic waste.

“One-fifth to one-quarter of all farmed salmon are dying every year. If this was happening on land there would be outrage. It’s a case of out of sight, out
of mind.”

Mr Staniford says the police and salmon farm companies have been notified that activists will begin their plan by circling salmon feedlots around Norwegian owned Mowi and Scottish Sea Farms at their sites in the Firth of Lorn, Sound of Jura and Loch Linnhe. 

Protesters will wear fancy dress, with outfits including a lobster in a gas mask, a salmon, a harbour porpoise in ear defenders and a seal in bullet proof vest being used to highlight their cause. 

Sondhya Gupta, of campaign group SumofUs, said: “There’s a rising tide of pubic opposition to Scottish salmon farms’ dirty business.

“Scottish salmon should be the pride of Scotland – not a shameful secret branded sustainable while fish live in filthy conditions, unfit for any animal.

“This year, over 43,000 SumofUs members called for the Scottish Government to force emergency inspections of salmon farms.

“While [there is a] delay, we’re stepping in – but as some point regulators need to do their own job.” 

Animal Concern group spokesman John Robins said it was time for people to reclaim the seas from floating fish farms, which are polluting the nation’s coastal waters, destroying wildlife and turning the king of fish into the equivalent of battery hens.

He claimed: “Salmon farming is unsustainable, incredibly cruel and very damaging for the marine environment.

“The Scottish Government must take the lead from protesters and act now to stop salmon farmers destroying our coastal ecosystem.”

Aquaculture has become crucial to Scotland in helping to sustain economic growth in rural and coastal communities, particularly in the north and west.

It is a diverse sector that takes in the farming of both finfish – dominated by the production of Atlantic salmon – and shellfish species, such as mussels and Pacific oysters.

The Scottish Government supported a working group that launched the strategy to boost the value of Scottish aquaculture from £1.8 billion in 2016 to £3.6bn by 2030.
There was also a desire to see the number of jobs double to 18,000 over the same period. 

But those ambitions have taken a hit with growing concerns over fish welfare standards.

At the centre of the debate is salmon –the largest component of the Scottish aquaculture industry, with about 170,000 tonnes produced on farms
each year.

It is Scotland’s single biggest food export and worth £600 million. 

The industry says that 70 per cent of Scottish salmon are certified to the RSPCA Farm Assured scheme – a higher percentage than any other UK farming sector.

But last year, the salmon farming industry came under fire for “shocking” levels of fish deaths as it emerged they hit record levels due to diseases and parasites. 

Sea lice, which have been a major problem for the farmed salmon industry, feed on the skin and blood of salmon, and can weaken the health of a fish and stunt its growth.

There is further concern about non-native rainbow trout escaping from farm cages with the ability to out compete with native species and preying on juvenile populations.

While the sector spends around £10 million per year in research and more than £50m in new equipment and techniques to understand and manage health and environmental problems, it emerged in April levels of wild salmon in Scotland are at their lowest since records began.

At the end of 2018, the last Scottish wild salmon netting station closed because there were so few fish to catch.  As a result, Scottish wild salmon is now off the menu.
Following the Saturday and Sunday protests around Oban, representatives of Salmon Watch will visit the Scottish Parliament and Marine Scotland on Monday.

Hamish Macdonell, director of strategic engagement for the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation said: “Unauthorised visits to fish farms place employees and the animals they care for at risk. 

“They also pose serious hazards to those entering the farms without permission. 

“As a result, any visit must be undertaken in accordance with the strict safety and biosecurity measures in place on each farm and take place only with the express permission of the farm manager.  

“Salmon farmers ask that people remain a safe distance away from farms and other facilities, for the safety of all involved and to protect the health and welfare of the