Why does this matter? As fish farming operations grow worldwide, and governments simultaneously look to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and target other environmental issues, the aquaculture sector is under pressure to expand sustainably.
The Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation’s (SSPO’s) Sustainability Charter sets out the Scottish salmon industry’s plans to do just this – with 41 specific actions to increase standards in both environmental impact and animal welfare.
From an environmental perspective, alongside targeting net-zero emissions by 2045, the sector – worth £885m to the Scottish economy – will work to use 100% renewable energy, source 100% of fish feed from sustainable sources with full traceability of ingredients, and reach 100% recyclable packaging. Scottish salmon farmers have also committed to improve fish pen structures to prevent escapes, and to work with government and regulators on trialling new technology. This includes innovations to capture waste from marine farms.
In terms of social sustainability, firms will provide sustainable homes in the Highlands for workers to tackle the lack of affordable housing in the region. Electric vehicle charging points will also be installed for communities, and the sector has committed to providing future high-quality jobs through investing in skills and recruitment.
The salmon farming sector in Scotland has not been without its issues. In 2018 an NGO report highlighted concerns over fish welfare in Scottish farms, with environmental campaigners accusing the industry of breaking sea lice, mortality and escape limits. Late last year Mowi was criticised after 700,000 of its salmon died over three months. SSPO put the lower 2019 survival rate figures down to planktonic blooms and increased water temperatures.
Scottish regulators have clamped down on the sector in recent years – though rules were temporarily relaxed earlier in 2020 due to Covid-19. Specific loch-based farms have also been highlighted as environmentally problematic, and a plan to develop a salmon farm in the Wester Ross Marine Protected Area has recently been opposed due to its potential environmental impact.
This has prompted operators to look to new locations, including farms further out to sea. Norskott Havbruk is in discussion with authorities about developing Scotland’s first open ocean fish farm. Meanwhile Loch Long Salmon is looking to establish semi-closed farms in the country, where deep water is pumped into an impermeable bag containing the salmon. To tackle lice, Scottish farmers have been experimenting with sea-lice eating wrasse fish to cut down on medicine use, and University of Edinburgh researchers are also looking to tackle the problem with selective breeding.
Elsewhere, other countries and firms are seeking to improve the sustainability of salmon aquaculture. Canada, for example, is pushing the industry to move away from net pen aquaculture towards alternatives, and semi-closed farms are also being trialled in the country. Norway is building fully electric salmon farms, while also piloting schemes to use facilities’ waste to create biofuels for aviation.
More generally, these initiatives will act to boost a sector that’s already seen as relatively sustainable in the context of global protein producers. Salmon farmers score highly in the Coller FAIRR Protein Index, which ranks all protein producing firms based on ESG factors, with Mowi leading the list.