Staggering mortality rates reveal significant health and welfare challenges in Norwegian fish farming

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Staggering mortality rates reveal significant health and welfare challenges in Norwegian fish farming

22 March 2022
Dyrevernalliansen
News

More salmon than ever before died prematurely in Norwegian farming in 2021. The fish health report 2021 from the Veterinary Institute shows that the situation is characterised by a number of different diseases and lice treatments which are a great burden for the farmed fish. Our member organisation, Dyrevernailliansen (The Norwegian Animal Welfare Alliance), is now pushing for mortality to be included in the traffic light system for salmon, so that facilities with high mortality are prevented from expanding production.

Norway produces most of the world's farmed salmon. Fish farming in Norway is run very intensively and there is broad consensus that welfare is not satisfactory in the aquaculture industry, and that mortality is too high.

In 2020, 52.1 million farmed salmon died at sea, a mortality rate of 14.8 percent. Recent figures from the Fish Health Report from the Veterinary Institute show that the total number of dead salmon in the sea phase was a staggering 54 million individuals in 2021. (This number does not include “loss of salmon” which includes destruction of fish with production deformities or escaped fish, so the number in reality is even higher). Mortality has been steadily high for many years, and the more salmon produced, the more individuals die along the way. Although deaths are not a good measure of welfare, the ever-high mortality rates are a clear sign of an underlying welfare problem.

As of today, lice numbers are the only criteria for the country’s traffic light system, which determines whether the facilities can expand. However, handling the salmon during treatment to de-lice the fish is known to stress and weaken the fish, rendering the salmon susceptible to various diseases and mortality. Brutal lice treatments remain one of the biggest welfare challenges for Norwegian farmed salmon at sea.

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In March 2022, Dyrevernailliansen met with Minister of Fisheries and Marine Affairs Bjørnar Skjæran to discuss the challenge of high mortality in farming. They proposed that fish welfare be included in the traffic light system, with mortality as the preliminary indicator among others to give the salmon industry an incentive to reduce the number of mortalities, and encourage more gentle de-licing and transportation methods. 

If the aquaculture industry is to be sustainable, requirements must be set for fish health and welfare to be measured and monitored to a greater extent. When animal welfare indicators are given weight in determining production levels, this will undoubtedly stimulate innovation and increased sustainability.