Animal welfare

Farmed salmon live a life encaged, enduring barbaric conditions earning them the nickname "battery hen of the seas". Many suffer and die from disease, malformation, suffocation and over handling by man and machine. Salmon farm infrastructure has devastating impacts on seabirds and marine life including seals, whales and dolphins. The companies that grow them even get exemptions to maim and kill protected wildlife as a routine part of 'farming' operations.

This is a stark contrast to their image of clean, green, sustainable and RSPCA approved.

Bean bag round in seal's eye
Bean bag round in seal's eye
  • Seals are protected native animals, drawn to fish farms as a food source. To deter them, fish farms are allowed to fire beanbag bullets at seals which habitually approach the farms. There have been reports of seals being blinded and deafened as a result of this.
Deterrance "cracker"
Deterrance "cracker"

  • Fish farms also use what they misleadingly call 'crackers' – underwater explosives – to scare off seals and dolphins. Sudden loud noises underwater are known to cause distress and injury to marine life, especially those which rely on hearing to communicate, and hunt for food.

Maugean skate threatened with extinction

  • The Maugean skate is about 75cm long and 50cm wide, it is Tasmania's largest endemic fish. It now lives only in Macquarie Harbour on Tasmania's west coast. 
  • It hit the news in 2011 when the salmon industry itself admitted that a big expansion it was planning would cause what it called "minimal to moderate" harm to the species.
  • A research outcome released by scientists from the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies, shows that numbers of the Maugean skate dropped by nearly half between 2014 and 2021. What really rang alarms was sampling data indicating that between 2014 and 2021, the proportion of juvenile females in the total population had crashed by more than 82 per cent.
  • Salmon farming is identified as a principal cause of the species' plight, whereby fish faeces and uneaten food piled on the harbour floor under and around salmon pens – 2000 tonnes of it each year – lowers dissolved oxygen levels throughout the harbour. 

Source: Peter Boyer, The Mercury, 23 May 2023 (viewed online 23 May 2023)

Will the skate be the only beneficiary of oxygenation?

The salmon industry and the Federal government are jointly funding a research project to see if oxygenation of the waters will save the skate (Mercury, 22 December 2023, paywalled). But there will be other significant beneficiaries - farmed salmon. This has not been mentioned in industry or government media releases.

A recent academic research study in Canadian sea pens reported that:

As climate change continues to warm oceans and exacerbate deoxygenation, coastal ecosystems and anthropogenic activities that occur there are left vulnerable. Fish cultured in ocean net pens are increasingly subjected to oxygen stress. Aeration and oxygenation have been utilized to improve oxygen conditions in pond aquaculture; however, their use in open ocean net pens is still in its infancy . . .  [our tests show that] Oxygenation likely resulted in the upwelling of cold deep water, lowering the cage temperature by ∼4 ℃ which in turn increased oxygen solubility and decreased fish metabolism . . . As climate change increases hypoxia in coastal regions, where aquaculture practices continue to expand, oxygenation systems will become commonplace.

Source: Oxygenation effects on temperature and dissolved oxygen at a commercial Atlantic salmon farm. Bourke, Merideth et al, Dalhousie University, Halifax. Aquacultural Engineering v 99, Nov 2022. (Viewed at Science Direct 22 December 2023) .

NOFF has elsewhere pointed out that industry proposals to re-oxygenate the water in Macquarie Harbour are disingenuous at best: this may assist the skate, but will also help farmed salmon better survive the adverse impacts of ocean warming. What sounds like industry generosity turns out to be yet another taxpayer subsidy.

Cruel methods of disease control


  • Amoebic gill disease is a common threat, particularly in summer. It deteriorates salmon gills so they don't get enough oxygen. It can be washed off in a process called 'bathing', sometimes every 30-40 days, which involves pumping fish through a tube into a freshwater tank, and then returning them to their sea pen. Bathing is done on board large specialized wellboats, or by towing the pens very slowly to shore-based facilities with access to fresh water.
  • Processes like this are very stressful for fish and can result in injuries and mortalities. In 2018, a Tassal farm killed 30,000 fish during a 'bathing' treatment, citing 'human error' as the cause. 
  • In 2018, over one million fish died from pilchard orthomyxovirus (POMV) in overcrowded fish farms in the fragile waters of Macquarie Harbour.

Cruel production methods

Fish Farm Pieta
Fish Farm Pieta

  • In other parts of the world (in the USA and Scotland) there is evidence that salmon handlers routinely casually maltreat fish, and that the use of heavy industrial machinery to process fish can cause distress and pain. Both are characteristic of inadequate management, supervision and training.
  • In Tasmania, without independent inspections, with no transparency, and with legal repercussions for members of the public entering areas around industrial salmon leases, NOFF is unable to assess fish health, mishandling, stress and pain levels.
  • NOFF and animal welfare groups here and internationally are urging greater transparency and a regime of regular monitoring..

Read a devastating article on the massive and repeated salmon mortalities from industrial salmon farming in Chile.

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