Malcolm Johnstone, aquaculture manager for RSPCA Assured, at a farm. Assessments will now be done virtually. Photo: RSPCA Assured.

RSPCA Assured begins virtual assessments

RSPCA Assured will today begin carrying out virtual assessments of fish farms instead of assessors visiting the sites in person. More than half of the salmon produced in Scotland are farmed under the scheme’s requirements.

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The assessments will be carried out via live streaming through various platforms including WhatsApp, Google Meet and Google Hangouts. 

The organisation said the remote assessments are a temporary measure to protect members during the Covid-19 pandemic whilst continuing to ensure the welfare of animals and deliver RSPCA Assured certification.

Positive feedback

Routine assessments were suspended on March 23, and RSPCA Assured has been working with its certification body to develop the new temporary remote assessment protocols. They have already been trialled on farms and have received positive feedback, RSPCA Assured said in a press release.

Mark Robertson, a senior RSPCA Assured assessor, said: “Put simply, they will be really similar to the physical on-site assessments that our members are already used to, only the assessor won’t actually be there in person.

“Instead, they’ll be on a live video link where they can see the farm, virtually walk around it and direct the member to what they want to look at. 

“It’s incredible, really, that technology enables us to do this. And it gives me, as an assessor, great peace of mind that we can still support our members whilst ensuring the welfare of their animals during this difficult time.” 

The temporary introduction of remote assessments will reduce the need for RSPCA Assured to carry out follow-up visits in person when social distancing measures are lifted. 

Co-operation and patience

Joe Bailey, RSPCA Assured’s head of farming, said: “There are many challenges being faced by our members, and we appreciate their co-operation, patience and understanding during this difficult time. 

“Their wellbeing, and the welfare of their animals, remain our priority and we are working hard to ensure we can continue to deliver farm assurance whilst supporting them.

“Our members are doing a valuable, essential and fantastic job and we are incredibly proud of them.”

In-person assessments will still be carried out on farms where incidents/complaints relating to animal welfare have been reported, or as part of any special measures agreed with the farmer.

New applicants are being reviewed on a case-by-case basis and, wherever possible RSPCA Assured will be conducting remote audits.