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BBC Program Sparks Outrage Against Scottish Fishing Industry

Last year, the BBC featured footage from an Animal Equality dairy investigation on its Panorama program; now, the world-renowned news network has once again showcased new footage supplied by Animal Equality. This investigation illustrated the suffering of salmon on Scottish fish farms.
September 14, 2023 Updated: January 12, 2024
Scottish Fishing Industry Scottish Fishing Industry

During a Sunday night airing of Countryfile, a BBC show focused on British farming, U.K. viewers witnessed dying farmed fish left to suffer in netting or dead salmon discarded in bins and tankers.  

The special emphasized the soaring mortality rate of salmon in Scotland before reaching slaughter. The U.K. is responsible for slaughtering around 77 million farmed fish each year, but millions more die before they reach the slaughterhouse; last year, 16.5 million Scottish salmon died on farms.

So, what causes these deaths? As it turns out, the answer lies beneath troubled waters.  

What the BBC Program Missed

While the Countryfile program pointed to rising sea water temperatures, algae, and micro-jellyfish for the soaring rate of premature salmon deaths, aquatic animal welfare experts argue this is only part of the story.

A major contributor to these on-farm deaths is the widespread presence of flesh-eating lice on salmon farms. Not only do flesh-eating lice inflict pain on fish – whose bodies and faces are covered in sensitive pain receptors – but the majority of open-net farms in Scotland were reported to have exceeded sea lice levels deemed acceptable by the Code of Good Practice for Scottish Finfish Aquaculture in 2022.

While the BBC program briefly acknowledged these concerns, experts and aquatic animal advocates point out that it didn’t quite do the topic justice. 

Even less exposure was given to water pollution, chemical treatments, and the use of antibiotics, despite the risk that these practices can affect fish welfare, aquatic ecosystem health, human health, or environmental sustainability. 

That’s why Animal Equality’s Executive Director in the U.K. interviewed an aquatic animal expert, Professor Jennifer Jacquet, who weighed in on the lack of concern for farmed fish welfare. 

Photo by Serge Hoeltschi

Industry Response Misses the Mark

Despite rising mortality rates on Scottish salmon farms,the Scottish salmon industry still hopes to build new farms. 

But after applying to build a new type of farm at Loch Long–equipped with tank-like equipment called semi-closed pens–the industry was denied by the local office due to environmental concerns. 

Beyond concerns over water pollution and biosecurity hazards, fish farming requires significant resources our planet can’t sustain.

Just like cows and sheep, each fish requires a lifetime of food to produce a small amount of animal product for grocery store shelves. As salmon are carnivores, that impact is heightened, as they must consume other fish flesh to survive. Each farmed salmon consumes an average of 150 wild fish before death, raising concerns about aquatic ecosystem health and wild animal welfare. 

Furthermore, while the industry claims to provide employment opportunities and contribute to the economy, aquatic animal expert Professor Janet Jacquet remained skeptical. She cautioned against building economic dependence on an industry known for being unsustainable.

There are massive amounts of subsidies behind salmon farms. This really is fundamentally unsustainable, it doesn’t have a future, and it’s causing a lot of short-term issues for the animals and the local environments.

Professor Jennifer Jacquet, Aquatic Animal Expert 

She highlights that as people become increasingly aware of the problems associated with fish farming, the industry could face a future downturn. This would leave workers–and the economy–hanging in the balance.  

Ethical Concerns and Corruption in Aquaculture

During an investigation released earlier this year, Animal Equality used drone footage to reveal animal cruelty on fish slaughter boats off the coast of Scotland. Two major suppliers with ties to the United States were implicated. The investigation received attention from mainstream media outlets like The Independent

Footage showed that even before reaching the boats, fish suffer from overcrowding in nets, diseases, and visible signs of stress. On the boats, workers are seen mishandling the fish, likely causing serious physical and psychological distress. Smaller fish are left to suffocate in empty buckets, while injured ones are thrown back and forth, often slamming against walls and railings. Many dead and dying fish are thrown overboard, introducing biosecurity hazards, as they may pass on diseases to wild fish or even mate with wild salmon. 

This investigation aligns with previous findings from 2021, which exposed similar issues in on-land salmon slaughterhouses in the U.K.. Investigators found workers tearing gills from conscious fishes’ bodies and clubbing them to death. 

Taking Action for Farmed Fish

Since Animal Equality in the U.K. launched its campaign against the Scottish fishing industry, its work has been covered by reputable news sources like The Observer, The Guardian, The Daily Record, and The Scotsman. After the BBC program aired, The Sun joined the discussion

Meanwhile, thousands of people have voiced their outrage on social media.

Animal Equality in the UK is taking a proactive stance by calling on the Scottish Government to intervene. We urge the Government to halt the expansion of the fish farming industry by refusing to approve new facilities in Scotland. This is critical, as the industry is due to double over the next decade.

Listen to the scientific advice. Fish farming has been recommended against since the 1970s, scientists have been urging us to move away from carnivorous species [like salmon].

Professor Jacquet

With evidence mounting against the industry, the transition to plant-based foods is gaining momentum. 

Not only does fish farming negatively impact the environment, but scientists have consistently found that fish are capable of experiencing pain and suffering. This awareness is prompting consumers in the U.K. and the U.S. to reconsider their food choices and opt for alternatives that reduce animal suffering.

Fish in a aquatic factory farm

DEFEND FISH FROM ABUSE

Scientists confirm that fish have rich emotional lives and the capacity to feel.

Protect these sensitive beings by choosing plant‑based alternatives to animal food products.

How You Can Fight Fishing Industry Corruption

In a world grappling with sustainability and ethical concerns, the fishing industry finds itself increasingly under scrutiny. Animal Equality is leading the charge in demanding accountability. 

But what sets Animal Equality in the U.K. apart in its fight for change? It’s not just the team’s strategic campaigning and undercover investigations; it’s also their committed network of monthly supporters. These supporters allow Animal Equality to obtain investigative footage that the BBC has deemed newsworthy. 

Monthly donors also provide the financial stability required for impactful campaigns. With the aid of dedicated monthly supporters, Animal Equality in the U.K. is in a prime position to take the Scottish fishing industry to task.

Because of monthly supporters, Animal Equality in the U.K. is poised to leave a positive mark on the future. And in this future, all animals are afforded the dignity and respect they deserve.


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