A Scottish Government survey has revealed that salmon farming production dropped by a massive 18% last year. The publication coincides with the release of the latest mortality figures for August 2023 which dwarf mortalities from last year’s record-breaking year.

The Scottish Fish Farm Production Survey showed that the total weight produced in 2022, at 169,194 tonnes, was not only less than it had been in 2021, but also less than production in 2003, in spite of all the intervening years of expansion.

It was also a much bigger drop than the 8% that had been projected in last year’s 2021 production survey. The huge drop of 2022, however, took place in the wake of a year of record-breaking high of 205,393 tonnes production in 2021.

In the wake of these figures campaigners at Scamon Scotland called for a consumer boycott of Scottish salmon.

“Scottish salmon is dead in the water with 2023 shaping up to be the worst year ever,” said Don Staniford, director of the campaigning group Scamon Scotland. “A deadly cocktail of warming water temperatures, swarms of jellyfish, gill problems, infectious diseases, plagues of parasites and toxic algal blooms has already killed off millions of salmon this summer.”

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Rachel Mulrenan, Scotland director at the conservation charity  WildFish, said: “The considerable drop in farmed salmon production volume is not surprising, considering that 2022 was the deadliest year on record for Scottish salmon farms, with 16.7 million farmed salmon dying in the water. What is concerning is that this year is looking even worse than last, with 10.5 million deaths already reported from January to August; 2.7 million more than the same period last year.”

Ms Mulrenan continued: “This is yet another sign that open-net salmon farming is not a viable long-term industry for Scotland - and it's high time the Scottish Government followed the lead of Iceland, Washington and others, and moved away from this inherently unsustainable production system; for the health of the farmed fish, wild fish and our environment.”

These 2022 production figures were published on the same day as fresh data for salmon mortalities was released by Salmon Scotland, showing that for the fourth month running fish deaths were higher than they were in last year’s record-breaking year.

The report also revealed that 11 farms had been made fallow with cumulative mortality rates of over 20%. Two Bakkafrost farms topped the list for worst cumulative mortalities: Druimyeon Bay, which had a massive rate of 82.3%, and Greanamul, which suffered 56.4%. But Scottish Sea Farms Eday site wasn’t so far behind at 42.3%. Jellyfish and plankton were frequently cited as causes, along with viral disease.

Bakkafrost’s Geasgill salmon farm off the Isle of Mull, which we reported on, and visited, earlier this year, also had a mortality rate over just one month of 28.7%. A total of 300,750 morts were reported for Geasgill since late July. That's on top of 210,000 deaths the previous month.

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Bakkafrost in Scotland is, according to its third-quarter trading report, looking at a halving of harvest compared to the same period last year.

According to the news site Salmon Business: “In Scotland, the North and South regions reported harvests of 2,900 and 1,200 tons respectively. The trading update for the same period last year saw harvests of 3,000 tons and 5,100 tons for the same regions, meaning volumes have decreased by almost 50 percent.”

However, Salmon Scotland, issued a press release which stated that salmon survival was improving despite rising sea temperatures. “New figures,” it said, “on Scottish salmon survival rates show that the sector continues to make progress in managing environmental challenges in the sea.”

Dr Iain Berrill, head of technical at Salmon Scotland, said: “September is usually one of the most challenging months for survival, but interim figures suggest that monthly survival in September is expected to be above 96.5 per cent, compared to 95.3 per cent in the same month last year.

“There is no question that 2023 has been a challenging year, but the ongoing hard work by our farmers has provided good conditions for their salmon, despite record-breaking seawater temperatures here in the UK and globally.

“However, while there is always a level of fallen stock in any farming operation, the numbers this year are not where any farmer would want them to be. It is utterly devastating to the farmers caring for those animals when any fish are lost.

“Our ability to address the environmental challenges facing our fish while they spend up to two years in the sea has improved, but there is always more we can do to further improve survival.

“But the sector is resilient in the face of climate change and we have a track record of being pro-active and constantly adapting to environmental challenges.

“Like all food-producing sectors, we must adapt to climate change and the aquaculture sector will continue to lead the world in healthy, sustainable salmon for decades to come.”

Following publication of the Scottish Fish Farm Production Survey 2022 the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands Mairi Gougeon said: “I welcome the publication of these statistics. Scotland’s aquaculture sector is a significant contributor to our economy, generating approximately £885 million GVA and an estimated 11,700 jobs while producing healthy and nutritious products.

"It is good to see a small uplift in direct employment in the sector, and to see innovations and new strategies being deployed by the sector having a positive impact.

“For example, we’ve seen a reduction on the reliance of imported salmon ova (eggs) and an increase in production and hatches in Scotland. This strengthens our domestic supply chain and improves resilience. We also know that some companies are working to change their production strategies, for example by increasing the average size of fish put to sea and reducing the marine phase of production.

“These figures also show that farmers are proactively responding to environmental and biological challenges and pressures, for example by making the responsible decision where necessary to harvest smaller fish to support health and welfare, which has resulted in decreased production figures.”