Escapes of farmed salmon are shown to have negative impacts on wild salmon populations through genetic impacts arising from interbreeding. In addition to changing the genetic makeup of salmon populations, hybridization between wild and escaped farmed salmon is also shown to reduce salmon production and survival, in addition to direct ecological interactions such as competition for resources. These impacts are particularly important in the current context of adapting to rapid climate change. For Scottish populations already below their conservation limits, even a small number of farmed fish interbreeding with the wild population can have a huge impact.
As a signatory to the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO), Scotland has committed to the international obligation to meet the following NASCO goal: “100% farmed fish to be retained in all production facilities”. Despite this, there are still too many incidents of escapes of farmed salmon and trout, both in sea water and freshwater. In 2020 alone, nearly 140,000 farmed salmon and rainbow trout have escaped into the wild.
Fisheries Management Scotland have issued guidance to help identify farmed fish and what to do should one be caught in Scotland’s rivers. Farmed fish are most usually distinguishable by damaged fins. If a farmed fish is caught it should be humanely killed. If possible, a sample of scales should be taken, which will allow us to confirm that the fish is of farmed origin. We have created a reporting system which explains what you should do. If you include contact details, we will contact you to make arrangements for assessment of scale samples.
We would like to emphasise the following points:
- Escaped farmed fish do not form part of the calculation of rateable values for salmon fisheries in Scotland. Reporting farmed salmon will therefore not lead to an increase in rateable value of your fishery. It is important that these fish are reported to Fisheries Management Scotland.
- It is important, in addition to reporting escaped farmed fish to Fisheries Management Scotland and the Fish Health Inspectorate, that all farmed fish caught are reported to Marine Scotland in your annual catch return. Escaped fish are reported separately and do not contribute to the wild salmon catch statistics.
- Marine Scotland Science do not include farmed salmon in the annual conservation assessments.
- Marine Scotland do not consider the killing of farmed fish on a Category 3 River to be a breach of the 2016 Conservation regulations.