A SCOTS salmon farm operated by a firm that is an exclusive supplier to M&S had its RSPCA Assured status reinstated after an investigation was launched into a welfare complaint over wounded salmon.

Scottish Sea Farms blamed seals for the attacks on its farmed fish on the Isle of Mull.

At the centre of the allegations is Scottish Sea Farms' Loch Spelve farm as footage emerged of farmed salmon with what appeared to be open wounds.

The complaint alleged breaches of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 in relation to the RSPCA Assured salmon farm in Loch Spelve (Dalnaha) of the Isle of Mull.

The underwater filming is said to have taken place by animal welfare campaigners on May 7.

RSPCA Assured, is a not for profit arm of animal welfare body RSPCA and provides its trademark as a sign of animal well-being standards being met. Following their investigation an RSPCA Assured spokesman said that the RSPCA Assured status had now been reinstated after the swift conclusion of their investigation. 

Scottish Salmon Watch which carried out the filming told investigators they were concerned about the state of the fish.

At the same time the UK Animal and Plant Health Agency and the Scottish Government's Fish Health Inspectorate investigated and are due to report their findings.

 

HeraldScotland:

RSPCA Assured said its investigation could find no evidence to support poor welfare allegations.

The charity said: “We were very concerned by some of the footage and allegations of poor welfare and immediately suspended the farm whilst we urgently investigated.

“Following our detailed investigation, which included a rigorous in-person inspection by a specially-trained RSPCA farm livestock officer, we found no evidence to support the allegations made.

“Unfortunately, It’s a reality of farming any animal - and also pet ownership - that from time to time there can be disease outbreaks and other welfare challenges. What’s most important is that the person responsible acts swiftly to address them. 

“We are fully satisfied that the issues identified in the video were being swiftly and responsibly addressed by the farm at the time, in accordance with the RSPCA’s welfare standards. Therefore, we have today lifted their suspension.

“Any allegations of animal welfare issues, or breaches of the RSPCA Assured membership agreement, are taken very seriously and always thoroughly investigated.

"But, thankfully, welfare concerns on RSPCA Assured certified farms are extremely rare, and many millions more farm animals are having a better life thanks to the work of the charity.”

Scottish Sea Farms head of fish health and welfare, Dr Ralph Bickerdike, said: “Contrary to the claims being made, the footage clearly depicted the damage that seals can cause to fish, in much the same way that foxes can harm or kill chickens or lambs for example.

“Our farm teams are vigilant to presence of any damage caused to our salmon, removing affected fish as swiftly as possible and ensuring they are dispatched quickly and humanely in the interest of high animal welfare.”

Two years ago SSF reported seeing a reduction in seal culling after introducing new nets to keep them away from fish.

In 2006, M&S launched ‘Lochmuir’ - its Code of Practice for the farming of salmon that is unique to the business and which it said it developed with "our single conventionally-farmed salmon supplier, Scottish Sea Farms".

"Lochmuir has become a signature brand for M&S because it is trusted by customers and is associated with high quality and great taste and we use Lochmuir salmon in all our products containing salmon, excluding organic salmon lines," said the company in a submission to the Scottish Parliament's rural economy and connectivity committee three years ago over salmon farming.

READ MORE: Video: Disease concern as Scots salmon farmers' produce "stomach-churning" record levels of fish deaths

M&S in a feature on what makes the business responsibly sourced, said that they go to "great lengths to make sure that every piece of salmon is sourced to our leading welfare and environmental standards".

Authored last year by head of agriculture and fisheries sourcing Steve McLean, said central to responsible sourcing is their leading Select Farms standards together with "our long-standing partnership with our supplier Scottish Sea Farms across Scotland.

It says they only source a handful of dedicated farms that are exclusive to their business "meaning we know and trust our Select Farmers to meet our high standards".

"Over the last 15 years, my team has worked together with Scottish Sea Farms to continually raise the bar for salmon welfare and sustainability — not just for M&S but for the industry too," he wrote. "One step we’ve taken together is meeting the widely recognised RSPCA Assured standards across all of our Select Farms producing salmon, ensuring the best growing conditions so the fish are happier and healthier as a result.

"Because of our incredibly strong relationship with Scottish Sea Farms, we’ll continue working collaboratively to keep on improving our standards, so that our customers can trust that M&S salmon has always been, and always will be, sourced responsibly."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The aquaculture business at Loch Spelve reported additional salmon mortality at the site in 2019.

“This was in compliance with working arrangements between the Scottish Government and the sector on additional mortality reporting.

“Following an investigation by the Fish Health Inspectorate, no further action was necessary under the terms of the Aquatic Animal Health (Scotland) Regulations 2009, the purpose of which is to control notifiable disease.

“The farm continues to be authorised under the terms of the Aquatic Animal Health Regulations 2009 and is monitored as a part of the risk based surveillance, associated with those regulations.”