SCOTTISH salmon farmer Loch Duart claims to have made a breakthrough in improving fish welfare by introducing distractions such as ball games into hatcheries.
Young salmon have been observed nipping the fins of other salmon and, uncontrolled, the damage can have a long-term effect on the health and quality of the fish.
It is widely accepted that fin damage is an indicator of poor fish welfare but, until now, no new strategies which address the problem have emerged.
The hatchery team in Sutherland, led by David Roadknight, initially assumed the biting was simple aggression but, looking more closely at behaviour, it became clear that it was different to other aggressive interactions between the young fish.
The team concluded that putting some environmental enrichment into the tanks might help to reduce the boredom factor.
They put strips of tarpaulin in the water, giving fish a place to hide from ‘bully fish’, and strings of coloured balls for the salmon to play with.
The team said it is already clear that the balls have changed the swim patterns in tanks and dorsal fin quality seems to be improved. Now the Institute of Aquaculture at Stirling University is to evaluate the Loch Duart experiment.
Jimmy Turnbull, professor of Aquatic Population Health and Welfare at Stirling, said: ‘This is obviously a very small study and you cannot extrapolate too far from it – but the fish in the tanks with enrichment apparently have better fins and this is very promising.’
Alban Denton, managing director of Loch Duart, said: ‘Loch Duart is committed to the best welfare achievable and David Roadknight’s innovation has the potential to improve the welfare of salmon in hatcheries significantly.
‘Good welfare is a key reason why Loch Duart salmon is renowned for its fine taste because we know that welfare and taste are inextricably linked.’
Picture: Loch Duart’s Hugh Ross holds up the devices