The RSPCA has introduced more than 300 additions and changes to its RSPCA Assured Atlantic salmon certification to keep up with developments in the sector and continue improving welfare for the fish.

Mechanical treatments and cleaner fish added to RSPCA welfare standards

Published Last updated

First-of-their-kind welfare standards relating to the use of non-medicinal treatments for sea lice and gill disease are being introduced by RSPCA Assured in its updated Atlantic salmon certification programme.

They include requirements that such treatments must only be performed under veterinary advice, and only where it is in the best welfare interests of the fish, as determined by a risk assessment of the impact the treatment may have on the fish’s welfare.

RSPCA Assured will also require a written contingency plan to detail what action will be taken if unexpected issues arise during the treatment that compromise fish welfare, and that fish must not be subjected to more than one non-medical treatment within a 28-day period, unless approved by a vet.

Physical delousing

Prior to treatment, the period during which the fish are starved should be as short as possible and must not exceed 48 hours for physical delousing (Hydrolicer, Thermolicer, etc) or 72 hours for freshwater bathing.

The maximum water temperature used in thermal delousing must not exceed 34°C and fish must not be exposed to thermal treatment for more than 35 seconds.

Sean Black is hopeful that new requirements to non-medical treatments will make a significant improvement to the welfare of farmed salmon.

“We hope that they’ll make a significant improvement to the welfare of farmed salmon that undergo these treatments,” said Sean Black, senior scientific officer for aquaculture at the RSPCA, in a video introducing the revisions.

RSPCA Assured said the new requirements have been drawn up in consultation with the farming industry, and a wide range of other stakeholders, while taking account of the latest scientific, veterinary and industry knowledge and experience.

Cleaner fish

They will come into effect three months from today on May 19, and also include more than 80 new standards that have been introduced to improve the welfare of cleaner fish, which eat sea lice and are used in salmon pens to keep lice numbers under control.

“These [cleaner fish standards] include the need to risk assess the impacts of non-medicinal treatments on their welfare, the requirement to record and categorise mortality causes, and a reduction in transport stock densities for both wrasse and lumpfish,” said Black.


Other additions or alterations to the existing RSPCA Assured Atlantic salmon standard include:

  • Mandatory regular welfare outcomes assessments at both freshwater and seawater sites.
  • Improvements to the stunning and slaughter processes, including introducing the requirement for CCTV coverage for the entire slaughter process.
  • Clarifying the requirement to undertake daily checks for sick or dying fish in all tanks and enclosures, with immediate action required for any issues identified.
  • Improved oversight and protocols for the transfer and unloading of smolts to minimise stress and escape risks.

The certification body will also require formal written production plans to prevent unnecessary culling of freshwater parr because of factors such as overproduction. Culling for quality purposes or disease control will still be allowed.

Challenging but achievable

“We understand that some of these new standards may be challenging, but both the RSPCA and RSPCA Assured are here to support, and offer advice to members when it comes to implementing these new standards,” said Black.

“Remaining at the forefront of farmed animal welfare is the driving aim of both the RSPCA and RSPCA Assured, but we will always work closely with the farming industries, including salmon farming, to ensure our standards remain practical and achievable.

“We know all RSPCA Assured members want the best for the animals in their care and we hope that the new standards will help them continue to achieve their higher welfare goals. We are continually grateful to all RSPCA Assured members, veterinarians and fish health professionals, academics, industry experts and others who work with us to improve farmed animal welfare.”

The RSPCA Assured scheme has been widely adopted by Scotland’s salmon farmers and earns them the right to use the RSPCA Assured label on their fish products.