Pictures of lice injuries taken by the Norwegian Food Safety Authority at Lerøy. In the acquittal, it is pointed out from the court, inter alia, that for two of the pictures it is stated that these are taken on cage 6 - a cage that was emptied several weeks before the pictures were taken. Photo: Norwegian Food Safety Authority.

Lerøy acquitted of welfare charges after ‘witch hunt’

Norwegian salmon farmer Lerøy has been acquitted of violating animal welfare laws following what it claimed was a “witch hunt” by the Norwegian Food Safety Authority.

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Both the company’s Lerøy Midt division and Måsøval Fish Farming were reviewed by the Norwegian Food Safety Authority for having had very large numbers of lice on the fish at their farms in summer 2016.

The Authority wrote in a report that for Lerøy Midt the number of lice per fish during August 2016 developed to 60-100 lice per fish, and that the numbers had not been in the company’s weekly counts. According to the Authority, harvest data showed that 17% of the fish that were slaughtered were downgraded to so-called production fish because of open wounds.

‘Considerable doubt’

Both Måsøval and Lerøy were fined by the police. In March this year, Måsøval accepted a NOK 4.5 million fine from Trøndelag’s chief of police. Lerøy, on the other hand, took the case to court, and has now won in Fosen District Court.

The court acquitted Lerøy Midt because “it has not been sufficiently substantiated that they have neglected their responsibility to avert salmon lice increases in a way that should be regarded as clearly blameworthy to some of the employees, either individually or jointly”.

“In the court’s view, there is ... considerable doubt as to the extent of the damage,” the court wrote in its judgment.

No documentation

“In its notification to the police, the Norwegian Food Safety Authority stated that at least 170,000 fish had open wounds due to lice damage. 

“A significant element of uncertainty in this assumption is that the report is written by others than the one who has completed the audit. There is no documentation that shows that the results of these surveys have been recorded, and the court must assume that this is due to oral communication of the findings that have been made. Besides a few pictures of heavily damaged fish, no documentation has been submitted to show the extent, which in a herd of one and a half million individuals must be of importance.”

Lerøy, co-owner of Scottish Sea Farms, was not in a forgiving mood with its comments on the issue.

“The latter quote from the convictions shows that this case is similar to the recent discovery of the supervisory authorities’ censurable handling of supervisory matters, which among other things led to the Norwegian Food Safety Authority’s leader withdrawing recently from his position,” it said in a press release.

“We note that the verdict states that it is not documented where the images, which were given to the media as an illustration of the case, originate from, and that some of the pictures have not been proven [to be from] where the Norwegian Food Safety Authority has stated.”

‘Ruthless accusations’

The court judgment sates that: “Some of the pictures are without indication of where in the farm they are taken. In addition, for two of the pictures, the Norwegian Food Safety Authority has stated that these have been taken on cage 6 - a cage that was emptied several weeks before the pictures were taken.”

“The verdict is very important for our skilled employees, and gives redress for the ‘witch hunt’ that they have had to go through, due to the unreasonable and ruthless accusations against themselves and the company they work for,” said Lerøy.

The verdict can be appealed but Lerøy said it expects the prosecuting authority and the Norwegian Food Safety Authority to now drop the charges.

Fish Farming Expert’s sister site,, has asked the Norwegian Food Safety Authority for a comment, but at the moment it is reading through the judgment and does not want to say anything before it has gone through it thoroughly.