THE SALMON farming farming industry which produces Britain's biggest food export has come under fire over "sickening" record levels of fish deaths, four years after coming under parliamentary scrutiny over its record, the Herald on Sunday can reveal.

Calls are being made for a fresh inquiry as "alarming" figures show the amount of fish destroyed by diseases and other issues at farms is even higher than "stomach-churning" levels that led to calls for a moratorium on the expansion of the salmon farming sector.

Analysis of official figures reveals that the amount of destroyed fish on farms has risen three-fold in eight years with nearly 29,958 tonnes - nearly 13 million fish - being thrown away in 2021.

Four years ago, when MSPs were examining the industry, there were nearly 2m (4515 tonnes) fewer fish dying.

Fifteen years ago the number of mortalities was a fraction of the current level at 4,613 tonnes.

Salmon is Scotland’s single biggest food export – worth over £600 million – and is estimated to support 12,000 jobs and 3,600 suppliers in Scotland.

International sales of Scottish salmon were valued at £280m in the first half of 2022 alone, and the industry has said it is on course for record exports this year.

Now Edward Mountain, the Highlands and Islands MSP who chaired the salmon farming probe said that there should be a further review over the industry, saying it would appear it has been unable to address issues previously raised especially with the numbers of fish dying which he said were "increasing at an alarming rate".

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Salmon Scotland insisted that it was "dedicated" to the health and welfare of their fish.

Four years ago, the wide-ranging inquiry into Scottish salmon farming found "insufficient evidence" to support calls for a moratorium but said that "light touch" regulation had failed.

Holyrood's rural economy committee said the status quo was "not acceptable" and made 65 recommendations for improvement.

The industry said at the time it had already taking action to address some of the concerns which were raised.

In their report, MSPs said there should be a "precautionary" approach, with no expansion at sites where fish mortalities - caused by diseases - are classified as significant or high.

It said there should be "immediate dialogue", led by Marine Scotland, to relocate "poorly sited" farms.

Other recommendations include the mandatory and immediate reporting of fish mortalities, disease outbreaks and the use of chemical medicines to treat sea lice infestations.

It also wanted new farms to be positioned away from established migratory routes for wild salmon, and says exploring offshore sites in deeper waters should be treated as a high priority for the industry.

Mr Mountain, the former committee convenor has now made a formal request to Holyrood to put the industry under closer scrutiny.

In his letter to the current convener of the committee, Finlay Carson, Mr Mountain said there needed to be a further review of the industry.

He said: "At the time of the inquiry, the sector appeared to be struggling to address the multiple challenges of controlling of sea lice, lowering fish mortality rates and reducing the sector’s impact on the environment.

"Importantly, the committee was strongly of the view that the status quo in terms of regulation and enforcement was unacceptable, and that the bar needed to be raised by setting enhanced and more effective standards.

"However, in the years since the inquiry, it would appear that the industry has been unable to address many of the issues... especially the fish mortality rates which are increasing at an alarming rate. "

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He said the number of fish mortalities alone "question whether enough progress is being made by salmon producers to ensure their farming methods are responsible, sustainable, and meeting the recommendations set out" by the committee inquiry."

He added: “I accept the business need for salmon farming and the value it brings to the rural economy, but this should not be at any cost."

The inquiry was launched in June 2017 after Scottish government ministers said they wanted to see "sustainable growth" in the industry.

But campaign groups said that instead of doubling salmon farming production by 2030 the Scottish Government should be ordering "drastic reductions in production" before the lice and disease crisis spirals yet further out of control.

Graeme Dey, then convener of the parliamentary environment, climate change and land reform committee had said that mortality levels at that time would "not be considered acceptable in other livestock sectors and should not be considered to be acceptable in the salmon farming industry."

A separate report for the inquiry, from Mr Dey's committee warned of "irrecoverable damage" from future salmon farming if environmental concerns were not addressed.

It said there had been little activity in tackling environmental problems since 2002.

While the inquiry was ongoing, the environmental regulator Sepa proposed a new set of regulations which limited the use of chemical treatments for sea lice.

It followed a rise in the number of sites failing to meet environmental standards.

One of the biggest concerns was about the impact of parasitic sea lice on wild populations of salmon.

One campaign group organiser said the latest mortality numbers were "sickening", adding: "It is beyond belief that this could be happening after the industry has been under such scrutiny by Parliament".

Farmers and producers say they have faced a number of challenges in recent months, including bad weather at the start of the year affecting harvests, post-Brexit and pandemic-induced labour shortages and cross-Channel delays.

Salmon Scotland has been calling on the Scottish and UK governments to take action to support the sector, ensuring it can continue to grow and provide more local jobs in Scotland and more revenue for the UK economy.

A Salmon Scotland spokesperson said: “Not only are Scotland’s salmon farmers dedicated to the health and welfare of their fish but their commitment to openness is shown by the fact that theirs is the only major livestock sector that routinely publishes survival rates. “These show that, in the first seven months of this year, the average monthly survival rate for Scottish farm-raised salmon was 98.7 per cent – this compares to a survival rate of just 0.5 per cent in the wild.”