SCOTLAND’S biggest salmon farmer, Mowi, has defended its farming practices ahead of a potentially damaging BBC broadcast next week.
The Panorama programme, titled ‘Salmon Farming Exposed’, airs on Monday night and Mowi said in a statement issued today that it expects this to provide ‘an unbalanced and negative portrayal of our industry and company’.
Mowi Scotland communications director Ian Roberts was interviewed for the show, and the company said it had been able ‘to correct several factual inaccuracies and misunderstandings that have led the BBC to promote their narrative’.
However, the salmon producer was bracing itself for further inaccuracies about the industry to be repeated.
The BBC has run several programmes recently attacking salmon farming in Scotland, most recently on The One Show on May 1, during which the reporter, Joe Crowley, did not talk to anyone in the sector.
In an attempt to offer a more accurate picture of the salmon farming industry, which employs around 12,000 people in Scotland, Mowi has created a webpage responding to key themes in the programme.
The company, which has been farming salmon in Scotland for more than 50 years, said its activities are regulated, licensed and inspected, with over 300 audits a year. Many of these are unannounced inspections by government agencies such as SEPA (Scottish Environment Protection Agency) and Marine Scotland.
Mowi (formerly Marine Harvest) has invested more than £200 million in three years to improve its farming systems and fish health.
‘We work with many animal welfare and conservation groups, including the RSPCA, and our salmon are raised and harvested according to their RSPCA Assured salmon welfare standard,’ the statement continued.
Addressing some of the issues raised in the programme, the company said it supports strong industry regulation.
‘We believe in transparency of data that is of interest to consumers, and that is why we voluntarily publish data on our website above what is legally required (weekly sea lice numbers and fish survival for example).
‘We believe that Scottish laws governing aquaculture are some of the strongest in the world and we welcome that – we want customers to be confident in the salmon we raise. We also expect that regulations will evolve with our sector as it grows.’
On medicines, Mowi said it aims for zero use, and only licensed medicines are provided to fish under veterinary prescription.
‘In 2018, we used just 10 grammes of licensed antibiotics to treat 1,000 kilogrammes (1,000,000 grammes) of salmon.
‘We employ qualified vets and fish health professionals and our use of medicines is subject to regular, unannounced inspections by SEPA and Marine Scotland.’
Each farm has a biomass limit (weight of salmon in tonnes) set by regulators, which is based on scientific parameters specific to that location.
‘It is our responsibility to make sure that we accurately report the weight of fish swimming in the water,’ said Mowi.
‘When salmon are moved to sea, we use a computer model to predict fish growth, but we don’t just rely on prediction – as part of our welfare monitoring we physically weigh some of the fish once they have grown to check the accurate measurements.
‘Nearer to market time, we also receive accurate weights from our harvests, which again provide us real time fish weights.
‘Sometimes the computer model can be wrong, because it assumes the fish eat all of the food each day – but if salmon become stressed from high water temperatures, harmful plankton or stormy weather, the fish may not eat all their food and may lose weight.
‘If the actual weight of the fish is different to the computer model prediction, we will make the corrections to ensure accuracy.
‘Our most accurate estimate of the weight of salmon swimming on the farm is reported to regulators monthly.
‘Our final results show us to be very accurate: we are typically within two per cent of expected final inventory.’
Mowi communications director Ian Roberts
Mowi publishes the results of its sea lice management strategy on its website every week and said it has been ‘very open’ about the challenges.
‘By investing in the right people and right technology to effectively manage sea lice on our salmon to low levels, we are reporting the lowest levels of sea lice over the past five years.’
The company admitted fish survival rates over the past few years ‘have not been where we would like them to be’.
But it has taken significant actions to improve performance; ‘thankfully, we are already seeing the benefits of our work coming through, with fish survival improving significantly.’
Weekly mortality data is published on Mowi’s website for each of its farms.
Panorama is to air on BBC 1 on Monday, May 20.
To read Mowi’s full response see https://mowiscotland.co.uk/bbc-panorama-response/