Scottish salmon producers have rejected allegations put forward in Netflix’s latest documentary ’Seaspiracy’, claiming the film makes assertions that are “wrong, misleading and inaccurate”.

Seaspiracy, from the team behind award-winning 2014 documentary Cowspiracy, highlighted issues of animal welfare and claimed Scottish salmon were dying from sea lice infestation, anaemia, heart disease - and even chlamydia.

Within days of its launch on March 24, the film - which delves into the harmful impacts of the aquaculture industry - was one of Netflix’s top ten most watched films and programmes.

Scottish salmon farmers, however, have taken issue with the film’s portrayal of the industry.

While the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) said Seaspiracy raised “important questions”, it stressed the documentary made “exaggerated and emotive claims”.

Shot by filmmaker Ali Tabrizi, Seaspiracy showed footage of salmon being “eaten alive” by sea-lice parasites, the killing of dolphins and whales, and documented Mr Tabrizi's journey to discover more about the ocean.

Mr Tabrizi said he had been "fascinated by the ocean" for as long as he could remember, but that his "romantic vision" that he had always had completely changed when he was "forced to confront a side of the story [he] never knew."

But the SSPO has refuted claims made in the documentary, including that fish swim around in filthy water, and insisted the data does not support the documentary’s claim that the industry generates the same amount of organic waste as the entire population of Scotland.

At one point in the documentary, footage obtained from a Highland fish farm shows what appears to be thousands of dead salmon in a tanker, with a stench described by Tabrizi as “horrifying”.

But salmon farmers have hit back at the so-called “mortality mountain”, referencing monthly data which put the mortality rate for Scottish salmon at 14.5% in 2020.

They added that dead fish are kept in appropriate containers prior to disposal in full adherence with regulations.

Dr Iain Berrill of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) said: “While this film raises some very important issues, the claims made against salmon farming in Scotland are wrong, misleading and inaccurate.

"As a result, this part of the documentary was simply privileged activism masquerading as investigatory film-making.”

He added: “To take just a few of these exaggerated and emotive claims -  salmon farming is not responsible for degrading wild fish stocks for use in feed, lice on our fish are not out of control and claims equating organic waste from salmon farms to human waste are misleading and have been repeatedly de-bunked. Farmed Scottish salmon swim and shoal freely in high-quality, cool seawater that is constantly being refreshed by tides and currents.

“Aquaculture is a key part of the answer, not the problem, with regards to concerns over wild fish stocks. The United Nations has recognised this fact which is why it supports fish farming as crucial to feeding the world's growing population, now and in the future."

What were the main issues raised in Seaspiracy and what does the SSPO say?

Footage of salmon showed the fish being eaten alive by infestation of sea-lice parasites, while the documentary asserted it was a common reality of fish farming across the world - that fish are made to swim in circles of their own filth.

"Scottish salmon do not swim in dirty water - they require high-quality, cool, oxygen-rich water to survive which is the very reason they’re reared in nets pens where millions of gallons of clean seawater constantly flows through.

"They are also stocked at a density of 1.5% fish to 98.5% water, allowing fish to swim freely or shoal, as is their natural behaviour. Sea lice levels remain consistently low at just 0.52 per fish in 2020, that’s just one female louse (a naturally occurring pest found in seas and on healthy fish around the world) for every two fish reared."

The filmmakers estimated each salmon farm in Scotland produces organic waste equivalent to a town of 10-20,000 people and taken together estimated equivalent to the entire population of Scotland each year.

"Claims that the sector produces the organic waste equivalent to the population of Scotland have been disproved many times with scientific data simply not supporting the allegation."

The film showed what it called fish farm mortality bins, claiming 50 per cent of salmon are dying from egg to plate and from hatch to catch - also known as the “mortality mountain”.

"The mortality rate for Scottish salmon in 2020 was 14.5%. The salmon farming sector is unique in UK farming for openly publishing monthly data detailing mortality rates and other health challenges. When fish unfortunately do die they are kept in appropriate containers, prior to disposal in full adherence with regulations."

The documentary said the fish are dying from anaemia, lice infestation, infectious diseases, chlamydia and heart disease; an issue of welfare abuse.

"All Scottish salmon farmers employ dedicated fish veterinarians and fish welfare staff to help care for their animals to the highest possible standards. All farms are also regularly inspected and audited by regulators, welfare accreditation schemes and customers to ensure best practice is adhered to."

The film claimed people are eating grey fish which is painted pink because of the colouring added to their feed.

"Farmed salmon feed contains an organic, naturally sourced carotenoid which replicates elements of a wild diet. As an anti-oxidant and source of pro-vitamin A it is good for the fish’s immune system and growth – resulting in not only healthier fish but also the familiar ‘salmon pink’ colour of fillets."