One good and one bad for Scottish salmon farmers

As a new report says that Scottish salmon farmers have drastically reduced antibiotic usage, Salmon Scotland has commented on suspicion that farmed fish escaped into the River Lochy.
Floating cages in a sea fish farming in Scotland. Scottish salmon farmers have drastically reduced the use of antibiotics, but Salmon Scotland also commented on a suspected escape of farmed fish.
Floating cages in a sea fish farming in Scotland. Scottish salmon farmers have drastically reduced the use of antibiotics, but Salmon Scotland also commented on a suspected escape of farmed fish.Adobe Stock.

One good and one bad, or at least not so good, for Scottish salmon farmers. On the same day that Salmon Scotland revealed that a new report published by the UK Government has highlighted that Scottish salmon farming companies have more than halved their use of antibiotic medicine in the space of a year, the trade body also commented on suspicions that farmed fish are being caught in the River Lochy.

Fewer than one in ten salmon farms used antibiotics in 2022

Following the challenges of Covid-19, the fish had to be kept in the sea for longer, and protecting the health of larger fish required additional care, including, in some cases, antibiotics to treat bacterial problems. In 2022, however, fewer than one in ten Scottish seawater farms used antibiotics, "meaning the overwhelming majority of salmon farms did not treat with antibiotics at all," Salmon Scotland noted.

In fact, the amount of antibiotics used last year was only slightly higher than when this information was first recorded in 2017. "The small number of farms that did so used less than half the amount of the previous year, indicating that the environmental challenges which could be managed through antibiotics had dissipated in 2022," the trade body for Scotland's farm-raised salmon sector added.

According to the new Veterinary Antimicrobial Resistance and Sales Surveillance (VARSS) report conducted by the UK Veterinary Medicines Directorate 2022 usage of antibiotics in salmon was 18.6 mg/kg, down 24.5 mg/kg since 2021. To put it in perspective with respect to other animal protein-producing industries, the level of antibiotics for pig farming was 71.8 mg/kg and 35.4 mg/kg in turkeys, while the sheep and cattle sectors do not publish complete data.

"Like any medicine, antibiotics are used responsibly, sparingly and only when required in the health and welfare interests of our fish, and only under prescription from licensed veterinarians," said Dr. Iain Berrill, head of technical at Salmon Scotland. "As part of our commitment to transparency, we aim to reduce use as low as possible to give consumers full confidence when they enjoy one of the most nutritious and tasty foods we produce in Scotland," he added.

Farmed salmon escaped into the River Lochy?

Almost at the same time as sharing the good news about reduced antibiotic usage on Scottish salmon farms, the organization posted a note on its X (formerly known as Twitter) profile commenting on the suspicion that farmed fish were being caught in the River Lochy.

"Salmon Scotland has been contacted about a number of suspected farm-raised salmon caught on the River Lochy, Lochaber in recent weeks," acknowledged the trade body for the Scottish farmed salmon sector. "Our salmon-producing member companies are working closely with the local fisheries management organisation to investigate the origin of the fish, including DNA analysis," it continued.

In its tweet, Salmon Scotland emphasized that interbreeding is not a concern, given that fish caught in the River Lochy are sexually immature. "The aim of all parties is to establish where the fish originated, take any remedial action necessary in the River Lochy to minimise impacts and to report on findings to the appropriate stakeholders," the statement concluded.

The issue of fish escapes and their possible environmental consequences is making headlines lately, especially in Iceland where, after the accidental escape of salmon from Arctic Fish facilities in August, the Icelandic Parliament reacted by approving additional funding of ISK 2.2 billion (USD 15.9 / EUR 15 billion) for monitoring of aquaculture by the authorities.

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