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Investigation: Fish Being Thrown, Left to Suffocate or Killed While Conscious On Scottish Slaughter Boats

Animal Equality has released covert footage showing trout and salmon suffering a string of abuses on slaughter boats across the coast of Scotland.
25/02/2023 Updated: 16/04/2024

Described by OOCDTP Doctoral Fellow and fish expert, Mark Borthwick, as “among the very worst instances of fish abuse I’ve seen in my career”, a number of concerning incidents were unveiled across the two facilities, including:

  • Failure to stun fish or conduct adequate stun-checks, with some fish entering the stun-kill machinery backwards;
  • Smaller fish being left to suffocate in an empty bucket;
  • Visible overcrowding in nets and bloodied slaughterhouse machinery;
  • Fish wounded and bleeding after being transported in pipes from sea pens onto boats;
  • Fish thrown violently by workers, causing some fish to slam against walls;
  • And dead and dying fish being discarded overboard by workers, a clear biosecurity risk.

Filming of the trout and salmon facilities took place across a two-month period in late 2022.

Salmon suffering exposed

The salmon farm, based in Loch Cairnbawn, is operated by Loch Duart Ltd, a known supplier to fine-dining restaurants and Michelin-starred chefs, having featured on the menus of chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Rick Stein. Accredited by RSPCA Assured, GlobalG.A.P and Friends of the Sea, the company even supplied fish meat to the Birmingham Commonwealth Games and COP26.

“This striking footage gives rise to real cause for concern. I have no doubt that mass and preventable suffering is happening at every stage of the process.”

Mark Borthwick, OOCDTP Doctoral Fellow and fish expert

Reviewing recordings from Loch Cairnbawn, aquatic animal expert Mark Borthwick said: “Fish can be seen clustering together near the surface of the water, where they are visibly cramped for some time. Schooling is not a normal behaviour for these solitary predators so they are likely swimming away from one another for fear of cannibalism, the result of a highly unnatural, stressful environment. The blood pooling in the slaughter machinery suggests that the pump equipment used to transport fish from the pens onto the boat is likely causing extensive trauma for many of these animals, who suffer injuries as they thrash around inside the pumps.”

He added: “The machinery is so poorly set up that many fish have died before they even reach the stun-kill machine. Those who do make it are met with a seriously overcrowded environment, where some fish – both living and dead – appear to be forced through the machine backwards and upside down. Stunning machines usually require fish to enter head-first, I can’t emphasise enough how painful it would be for a salmon to have a club or electric shock applied to their body and not their head. It’s a chaotic scene.”

In agreement, Dr Lynne Sneddon of the University of Gothenburg added: “Blood is visible so there will definitely be alarm substance which is produced by damaged fish skin – this elicits anti-predator behaviour and a fear response so any fish still conscious would be experiencing fear as well as pain.”

Fish slammed against walls and thrown overboard

Workers are caught on camera throwing dead and dying fish off of the boat, with one fish hitting the hard metal railing before being picked up and flung into the sea. Upon closer inspection, it even appears as though multiple workers are hurling fish at each other, and at such force that the animals are bouncing off of multiple walls. 

“Out in a loch, away from the public’s prying eyes, these workers clearly think they are invincible, and with no unannounced Government inspections taking place it’s not hard to see why. Consumers can never truly know what takes place inside these facilities; the best way to prevent this suffering is to avoid eating fish entirely.”

Abigail Penny, Executive Director, Animal Equality UK

The footage also showed fish being thrown from a bucket off-board the boat. According to world-renowned expert, Dr Lynne Sneddon of the University of Gothenburg, this has detrimental effects not only for the animals but the environment also. She said: “Throwing fish overboard definitely should not happen. These fish could introduce disease and parasites and could negatively affect wild populations through competition, aggression or if able, pass their genes on.”

Royal seal of approval

The trout farm, Loch Etive, is operated by Dawnfresh Farming, with products marketed under the ‘R R Spink & Sons’ brand. It is the only trout farm to have been certified RSPCA Assured, after working with the RSPCA to develop their trout standards. With a royal seal of approval, R R Spink & Sons is reported to have supplied major supermarkets Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer, as well as a number of luxury restaurants, hotels and country clubs across the UK and US. 

Upon analysing the footage, Borthwick said: “Smaller fish can be seen falling through slats and into an empty hopper bucket. Without water, these fish are deliberately left to asphyxiate.” 

He added: “For the majority of the recording there is no secondary check carried out by workers to ensure that the animals have been adequately stunned. As a result of this oversight I can see several clear instances where trout are flapping and showing signs of consciousness.”

A body of evidence

This is not the first time that Animal Equality has uncovered welfare abuses taking place in a fish slaughterhouse. 

Up to 52 million farmed salmon and up to 25 million rainbow trout are reared and killed in the UK each year. In 2021, Animal Equality released footage captured covertly from within a salmon slaughterhouse operated by The Scottish Salmon Company. 

The footage revealed significant numbers of salmon showing signs of consciousness at the time of killing, as verified by world-leading aquatic animal scientists and veterinarians. Some fish had their gills cut while still conscious, and many had to be manually clubbed to ensure adequate stunning – in one case as many as seven times. Other live fish were shown being violently thrown to the ground by workers and left to asphyxiate. 

Farmed salmon are bludgeoned at a slaughterhouse
Our footage from 2021 shows salmon being clubbed as they show signs of consciousness

The findings have been reported to the relevant authorities by law firm Advocates for Animals on behalf of Animal Equality.

Riddled with problems

Commenting on the aquaculture industry in Scotland, world-leading aquatic animal expert, Dr Lynne Sneddon of the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences at the University of Gothenburg, said: “A major problem that must be tackled is the lack of oversight from regulatory bodies. We need to implement CCTV in all fish farms and slaughterhouses – where non-compliance data is released swiftly and publicly. We also need to mandate regular unannounced inspections in slaughterhouses, whether on-land or on boats. And we need better legal standards, and fast.”

She added: “Accreditations mean little currently as there is little transparency on how the accreditation is gained or maintained, and the Government cannot continue to rely on these schemes.”

What you can do

As consumers, we hold the power. We can end salmon and trout suffering, by changing what we buy and what we eat. Discover delicious plant-based alternatives today by exploring some of our favourite vegan recipes! 

Protect Fish

Scientists confirm that fish feel pain and suffer. Protect these sensitive beings by choosing plant-based alternatives to animal food products. 

And, as constituents, we can call on politicians to do better. Join thousands of others by signing Animal Equality’s petition today, calling for increased legal protections for fish at the time of killing, mandatory CCTV in fish abattoirs, announced and unannounced inspections, and penalties for those found to be breaking the law.

Take a stand to help fish. Sign now!

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