Farmed Salmon

Throughout the world factory fish farms now produce upwards of 1 million tonnes of fake fish a year.

by Bruce Sandison.

Farming salmon is in my honest opinion the ultimate cruelty of current food production practices. Throughout the world factory fish farms now produce upwards of 1 million tonnes of fake fish a year.

I am a Scot and I have watched in horror the devastation this polluting industry has caused in my native land since the first fish farm was opened here in 1967 at Loch Ailort on the Road to the Isles.

More than a thousand years ago my Pictish ancestors revered wild salmon and considered them to be a symbol of wisdom. The Picts carved images of salmon on their monumental symbol stones and wild salmon have survived in Scottish waters since the end of the last Ice Age.

The fish farmers would have you believe that there is little difference between the deformed objects they produce in their cages and call ‘salmon’ and the real thing, wild salmon. Nothing could be further from the truth, be it either bog-standard factory farm fish or factory salmon from so-called organic farms.

Awild salmon is born where its parents were born, in the same place, in the same stream. When eggs hatch the little fish live in their freshwater environment for up to three years until ready to go to sea. At this stage of their life they are known as smolts. They weigh a few ounces each and are about six inches in length.

Smolts migrate to the sea where they feed before setting off on a miracle journey to richer feeding grounds in the North Atlantic. Five years after they were born, when they have reached a weight of around 6lb, they set off back to the river that gave them birth, a journey of thousands of miles, to begin the cycle of life again.

In contrast, farm salmon are born from the eggs and sperm from brood-stock fish; salmon selected for their breeding ability and kept in cages to be ‘milked’ for the whole of their useful lives. The eggs are reared in a hatchery and treated with chemicals to protect them from disease. When the young fish emerge, they are also treated to prevent disease, and then transferred to freshwater rearing cages to be fattened up to smolt size.

The smolts are taken to sea in tubs on the back of a lorry or by helicopter or by well-boats designed for the purpose. They are packed into cages approximately 75m in diameter. Each cage on a standard farm can contain up to 60,000 fish. On one site, there is generally up to 20 cages, thus upwards of 1 million fish can be crowded into a small area of coastal water.

Less than 2 years later, and after feeding the captive fish on a diet high in fat and oil to make them grow as quickly as possible to slaughter weight (5lb/6lb), farm salmon are killed, processed and on the supermarket shelf. At this time, a wild salmon is still living in its natal stream

Cage-packed farm salmon are attacked by billions of sea lice that, in effect, eat them alive. The caged fish have to be treated with a range of chemicals to keep them free from lice until they can be slaughtered. Hundreds of thousands of caged salmon die because of other diseases associated with high stocking densities.

Hundreds of thousands of farm salmon also escape into the wild each year when cages become torn or damaged. They compete there with diminishing numbers of wild fish for a finite food and breeding resource. They interbreed with wild fish, diluting the unique genetic integrity of wild fish and can eventually completely displace them.

Scotland produces 160,000 tonnes of factory-reared fake fish per annum. Sea lice from these farms has virtually wiped out many distinct populations of wild salmonids in the West Highlands and Islands as they pass by cages on their migratory routes; going to sea as smolts, or returning as adults to spawn. Rivers and lochs that once teamed with wild salmon are now virtually devoid ofthese fish.

Prior to the expansion of fishing farming in the late 1980’s there was not a single recorded instance of toxic algal blooms in the areas occupied by these farms. They are now a year-round occurrence; exacerbated by the 11,000 tonnes of untreated ammonia dumped into our coastal waters each year by the fish farmers. It is estimated that effluent from West Highland and Island fish farms is equivalent to the untreated waste discharged from a human population of 10 million people.

The fish farmers also allege that by farming salmon they are reducing the pressure on wild fish and providing the public with a cheap and nutritious substitute. Cheap it certainly is, but rather than relieving the pressure of wild capture fisheries, it is doing the reverse.

It can take 3 tonnes of wild fish, such as sandeels, to produce one tonne of factory farmed salmon. In Chile, the conversion ratio is even higher; a recent study suggests that 8 to 9 tonnes of Pacific anchovies are required to produce one tonne of Chilean farmed salmon. Thus the salmon farmers are playing their part in stripping the base of the food chain and endangering other species of fish that they rely upon these small fish for their survival.

The Salmon Farm Protest Group was founded to bring these matters to the attention of the public. If readers would like to help us in that work, please consider giving us one hour of your time on the morning of Saturday 14th October 2006 when, throughout UK, between 11.00am and 12 noon, our supporters will be handing out leaflets explaining our concerns to consumers.

If you can help, email me on and tell me which supermarket you can visit with a contact address so that I can send you asupply of leaflets. You may also find out more about our work by logging on to our website: Please help us end this cruel nightmare.

Bruce Sandison
The Salmon Farm Protest Group
Tongue by Lairg
Sutherland IV27 4XJ

Tel: 01847 611274 Fax: 01847 611262

Personal information

Bruce Sandison is a writer and journalist living and working in the village of Tongue on the North Coast of Scotland. He is founding chairman of The Salmon Farm Protest Group which fights to save wild salmon from extinction.

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