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Salmon Deaths: 15 Million in 2022

Updated: Aug 11, 2023

Aleksandra Bienkowska reports on the causes of a worrying upsurge in salmon deaths in UK waters

aerial view of fish farm in Scotland

Photo by Cotton Bro

Salmon farms are facing an accelerating number of fish deaths. Fish Health Inspectorate (FHI) data shows that deaths increased to almost 15 million last year. With salmon death rates doubling quickly, campaigners are advocating for boycotts.

Salmon farm producers blame natural causes

Salmon deaths have increased from 5.81 million in 2020, to 8.58 million in 2021 and 15 million in 2022. Producers blame diseases, bacterial or viral infections, with large numbers of micro-jellyfish in British waters, suspected to be caused by climate change.

“Throughout the year there will be different environmental pressures that affect survival rates. Farm-raised Scottish salmon typically face the biggest challenges in the autumn, when seawater temperatures peak.

Scott describes consistently high rates of farmed salmon during 2022, prior to a jellyfish bloom reducing survival in the month of September to 95.3%, being 2.4% less than the past four-year average. Scott maintains the belief salmon farmers are competent in ensuring required standards are met, as providers of world-leading animal welfare; the salmon losses are described by Scott to be the consequences of “naturally occurring challenges”.

Did you know? Salmon deaths in UK waters have almost tripled in the last three years - The Guardian

The global outlook

“The aquaculture industry has the audacity to boast of its fish ‘survival rates’, as though it is somehow acceptable for millions of individual fish to die each year from violent lice treatments or rough weather conditions,” said Abigail Penny, Executive Director of anti-cruelty charity Animal Equality UK.

Penny goes on to describe the ways that aquatic lives are often seen as “little more than numbers on a page”, suffering from “miserable” existences and “many don’t even make it to the slaughterhouse." search function

Don Staniford, director of the campaign Scamon Scotland, explains that the numbers of salmon deaths are higher than recorded statistics suggest, as the producers do not need to record all the mortalities.

“I’ve kayaked out to farms at 5am in the summer when it’s light, before they’ve got to work, and you see dead fish lying belly up at the top of the cages. The others have sunk to the bottom. So the first thing they do is collect the dead fish.

“About 25% of the salmon in sea cages are dying, so that’s about one in four,” he said. “If ramblers saw one in four cows or sheep dead in a field they’d be horrified, but because it’s underwater it’s out of sight, out of mind.”

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Salmon farming's role in the Scottish economy

Salmon is the most exported food from the UK, which makes it a huge income stream. Just in Scotland, salmon farms bring around £760 million in a year. The Scottish minister plans to up export rates to 400,000 tonnes a year before 2030.

Advocating against the proposal to increase production, campaigners are boycotting before lice and further preventable issues pose further threats to the salmon farm populations.

"If ramblers saw one in four cows or sheep dead in a field they’d be horrified, but because it’s underwater it’s out of sight, out of mind." - Don Staniford, Scamon Scotland campaign


Researched by Adrian Windeler / Editor: Mia Caisley / Online Editor: Harry Hetherington


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