A Christmas favourite it may be; but there is nothing festive nor joyous about farmed salmon.
Salmon is considered by many to be a Christmas staple, its murky journey from net-pen to plate concealed behind tinsel-clad wrapping and slick marketing.
Two parliamentary inquiries have this year confirmed the need for rapid change in salmon farming, which is causing widespread environmental destruction and the devastation of wild fish. We have campaigned for these changes for years; but what can be done until this happens...?
And for the uninitiated, what are the issues with farmed salmon? Our CEO, Paul Knight, explains why farmed salmon is best avoided - at Christmas, and until the industry changes...
Why you should go salmon-free this Christmas
This year’s reports from two Scottish Parliamentary Committees - Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR), and Rural Economy and Connectivity (REC) – following their inquiries into salmon farming, are both unequivocal; we have to adopt a far more precautionary approach to salmon farming to stop it damaging wild salmon and sea trout populations.
Quite apart from the many millions of farmed salmon dying in their cages every year through disease, parasites and the negative effects of both physical and chemical treatments for sea lice, the stark fact is that politicians from all Scottish political parties agree that Scotland’s already beleaguered wild migratory fish stocks need to be protected from the impacts of open-net salmon farming on Scotland’s west coast and Islands.
These reports vindicate Salmon & Trout Conservation’s strong campaigning over many years – the ECCLR and REC inquiries only came about because of our official Petition to Scottish Parliament in 2016 – and confirm what most of us have known for years. The challenge for us now is to drive through the Committees’ recommendations so that Scottish Government introduces, as a matter of urgency, far stronger regulation of the salmon farming industry.
This includes more sensitive siting of farms, well away from wild salmon and sea trout migration routes. One of S&TC’s key objectives received prominence in the REC Committee report - the incentivisation of companies to invest in closed containment units that physically and biologically separate farmed salmon from the natural environment and wild fish.
However, that all takes time. So what can we do?
Take a stand for wild fish
What we, as consumers, can do right now is to drive home the message to salmon producers by refusing to buy any farmed salmon products this Christmas (or indeed at any time until the industry becomes environmentally sustainable).
Forget ‘organic’ salmon (here's why), or any other marketing gimmick that tries to tell you these fish are farmed responsibly.
As it stands today, all open-net salmon farming can cause problems. None are truly environmentally sustainable.
There is always the very real risk that any farm can suffer from too many sea lice parasites, which then release huge numbers of sea lice larvae into sea lochs, where they attack wild fish.
Any farm can also suffer human error or storm damage that allows large numbers of farmed salmon to escape and breed with wild salmon and dilute natural gene pools.
And then there is the fouling of the sea bed around cages...
And those millions of dead salmon that never make it to the market because disease or chemical treatment, or just plain bad husbandry, kill them first.
Urgent action now required
As the Scottish Parliamentary Committees have now identified, the Scottish Government has to act fast and decisively to save the worst parts of the industry from itself and, in doing so, save wild fish. Action now help ensure that wild salmon and sea trout are genuinely protected in Scotland.
Until then, we can send a clear message to salmon producers, just as Scottish Parliamentary Committee members have this year - current salmon farming practices are just not acceptable anymore, and the industry must evolve quickly if it is to win back the public’s confidence to buy its products again.
So, this Christmas (and until standards improve) take a stand for wild fish by taking a hard pass on any farmed salmon. Use the power you have - the power of the mighty Pound.