Processing operatives at Scottish Sea Farms’ South Shian facility. The salmon farmer uses an in-water stunner to minimise stress for fish at slaughter and also has a back-up stunner in the production line.

New push to give farmed fish the legal right to humane slaughter


An expert opinion affirming the need for the UK’s farmed fish to receive better legal protections at slaughter has been published today by the Scottish Government.

The Animal Welfare Committee (AWC) gives advice to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Scottish and Welsh Governments on the welfare of animals.

In an update to its 2014 opinion on the welfare of farmed fish at the time of killing, which was finalised in February but first published today, the AWC argues that the governments must legislate to ensure that fish are stunned before slaughter and killed before regaining consciousness, that they should be killed in water or shortly after being removed from it, and that a back-up stunning process must be available.

Stunned before slaughter

Such a move would make no difference to the Scottish salmon farming industry, which already meets the AWC’s requirements.

All Scottish salmon harvest stations are independently certified by RSPCA Assured. This requires 100% of Scottish salmon to be stunned prior to slaughter, and all harvest stations have CCTV.

Scottish salmon farming companies also have a legal duty to ensure the welfare of farm-raised fish under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, and the supermarkets that the sector supplies also set strict conditions for slaughter.

Nonetheless, the salmon sector is supportive of well-drafted legislation.

World's highest standards

Dr Iain Berrill, head of technical at trade body Salmon Scotland, said: “Scottish salmon farmers already meet the highest animal health and welfare standards anywhere on the globe.

“All farm-raised Scottish salmon are stunned and slaughtered in seconds, in harvest stations that are independently certified by the RSPCA and covered by CCTV to ensure that humane slaughter standards are met or exceeded.

“We welcome publication of the animal welfare committee’s report, and we will continue to support them and others to ensure any legislation is appropriate to our sector.”

Earlier this year Ronnie Soutar, head of veterinary at salmon farmer Scottish Sea Farms, said: “Scottish salmon growers and the vets who work with them have led the way when it comes to humane slaughter of farmed fish, proactively putting in place standards that compare favourably with the legal protections for other livestock.

“To see these proportionate, fish-specific standards become enshrined in law can only be a good thing in welfare terms, not just for the species of fish currently farmed in the UK but also in setting a new benchmark for fish slaughter generally.”

Regular inspections

Campaign group The Humane League wants the UK government to include detailed slaughter regulations including stunning for fish in law. This would include regular inspections of farmed fish welfare at slaughter, as well as providing guidance on how to calibrate slaughter machines.

Because animal welfare is a devolved matter, any legislation passed in Westminster would not apply in Scotland. Instead, a law would have to be passed in the Scottish Parliament.

Cordelia Britton, head of programs at The Humane League UK, said: “The (UK) Government’s own experts are calling for legal protections for farmed fish at slaughter. This is the third time the Animal Welfare Committee has given this opinion - let it be the last. Yet it seems the English (Westminster) government is not taking this seriously; the report was finalised six months ago and they have still not responded.”