Your salmon supplier
When we raise fish, we have full responsibility for their health and welfare. That is a responsibility we take very seriously. Good fish health and welfare is not only a responsibility, but also the most robust basis for good business performance.
How we ensure fish welfare when we raise our salmon
It is essential that our employees have the right competence to care for our fish all the way from the egg are hatched and until harvest.
It starts with knowing the basic fish health and welfare needs based on the five freedoms. Those working directly with live fish must learn among others: nutrition needs and feeding practices, standards for handling fish in case this is needed, and how daily operations may impact fish health and welfare. All these topics are addresses regularly as the staff evaluate the site’s/facility’s fish health performance.
Imitating the natural environment
A big part of making our salmon thrive and grow is to imitate the natural environment. In the hatcheries, we copy the seabed in the rivers where the best eggs become fry. The fry and juvenile fish gets feed and care and protection from predators, and we ensure the optimal water quality (e.g., temperature and oxygen), current to swim against, and other growth condition through the entire freshwater cycle. We have also been testing various types of environmental enrichment, designed to mimic behaviour of salmon in the rivers. However, these may conflict with optimizing water quality and as such lead to risk of inferior fish welfare.
Contrary to nature, in farming the fish gets sufficient nutritious feed and has little competition for food. We do not use growth hormones or other growth promoters in our salmon farming.
We have both RAS-facilities (Recirculating Aquaculture Systems) and flow-through systems in our freshwater production. For the fish this is equal as we have the high-quality requirements for the water in both systems. In RAS facilities the used water is treated to remove particles and CO2, oxygen is added, and other treatment is done if needed to reset the water parameters. In flow-through systems the water is checked before intake and treated if necessary and treated before released to the river or ocean, ensuring that the effluent water holds high standard.
In the ocean we cannot control the water quality the same way as in land-based facilities, and on our grow out sites we do not have RAS-systems. Hence, the location of the site is based on analyses of the water quality at each location.
Water quality is key for the environment of the fish. Hence measurements are done at different depths in the cage during the entire production cycle and there are plans on how to react in case rapid deterioration of water quality are standard. During production, key parameters as temperature, salinity and oxygen are registered daily. Adapted to the local situation, also factors as sea current, water transparency, phytoplankton, zooplankton, presence of algae, bio marine toxins, and total nitrogen and phosphorus are measured. The feeding is monitored through camaras at flexible depths in the pen. We also measure the growth of the fish based on average weight.
The stocking density for ocean sites and freshwater sites follows the scientifically recognized limits and regulations. The maximum density in net pens in Norway is 25 kg/m3. This corresponds to 2.5% of the volume. Actually, there is more salt in an ocean pen that salmon, even at maximum biomass. In Chile and Canada, the maximum density for Atlantic salmon s lower 17 kg/m3 and 15 kg/m3. The maximum density occurs only in a short period close to harvest. Whereas the maximum density in Norway is 25 kg/m3, the average density from stocking to harvest would be 10-14 kg/m3. The salmon has plenty of room in the ocean pens, but often the salmon shoals in the pen.
The fish behaviour is monitored daily from the surface as well as from cameras on different depths inside the pen, and actions is taken if unnormal behaviour is seen. Both depth distribution, swimming patterns and feeding are elements important to assess the welfare, and key parameters are registered. We utilize a scientifically recognized method for welfare scoring , using a protocol where elements scored and registered include environment, population parameters, and individual traits including several external traits on e.g. skin, finns and head status.
Being surrounded by nets is not a natural environment, but it ensures welfare by protecting salmon against predators. The nets are constructed to allow good waterflow while being gentle to the fish if it happens to swim into the net. We have nets also above the pen, to protect our fish against predator birds. In Arctic areas where we have a lot of ice in winter, we disconnect the nets over the pen as they can be heavily iced. This is to avoid the salmon hurting themselves when the jump high above the water surface.
Our salmon must have feed that provides all nutrients needed and give good animal health and high product quality. Traditionally, salmon farming depended on forage fisheries. While the major part has been replaced with plant ingredients, marine ingredients are still important for fish health and to keep a good content of marine omega 3. The marine ingredients in the feed have the lowest CO2 footprint, and not using sustainably source fish meal and fish oil will go against the goal of cutting our GHG emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.
Growing salmon is also efficient use of the marine ingredients, fish meal (protein) and fish oil, and salmon is a net producer of both marine protein and marine oils. There is more marine oils and protein in the salmon than we have used in the feed to produce the salmon.
All marine ingredients must come from sustainable sources. The marine sources that are included in the feed are capture fish, shellfish, and zooplankton and a large share of the marine ingredients comes from trimmings and discards.
Growing novel ingredients as part of the global food transition is the long-term goal, and we work with our feed suppliers to gain greater knowledge of alternative raw materials. We also gradually increase the use of novel ingredients for example algae oil in our feed.
Our Code of Conduct for feed suppliers set strict requirement to the sustainable sourcing feed ingredients. All soy used in salmon feed shall be certified by the Roundtable for Sustainable Soy, Pro Terra, or equivalent.
See more details on the sources and origin of the feed ingredients in our most recent sustainability report.
A health plan for salmon
A robust health plan is required in our operations. Both freshwater facilities and sea water sites have health plans outlining standards, procedures and actions including treatments. The plans are developed and revised by our designated veterinarians/aqua medicine experts and checked by both authorities and auditors.
Our approach is to develop preventive measures against diseases by identifying the causative pathogens and revealing the transmission routes of these pathogens. The first line of preventive measures are systematic pathogen screening and strict hygiene adapted to the production system.
One part of the health plan is vaccination. Some vaccines are taken orally as part of the feed, and some are given as injection. The fish are sedated before injection of vaccine. Optimal feed and farming environment are also key to reduce disease risk.
See an overview of the vaccines used in our farming in our sustainability report.
When the salmon needs handling or treatment
The optimal situation for the salmon is to not be disturbed. However, sometimes we need to handle single fish or move groups of fish, and if so, we do that based on our fish health plan and procedures.
HOLDING THE FISH
When checking individual fish out of the water, it is important to hold the fish in a way that does not harm the fish, which mean carefully holding the entire fish, while supporting the body of the fish. It is equally important that the time the fish is out of water is as short as possible. Actually, we have defined a maximum of 15 seconds for fish to be out of water, unless it is sedated. This is relevant for example when we count sea lice, an operation mandatory by regulations in all regions we farm.
When moving the fish, some form for crowding must take place. This can be stressful to the fish, and the processes are carefully managed. Our standards are that the fish in our ocean pens should not experience crowding lasting more than 2 hours, and not more than maximum twice in a week or 3 times in a month. Only in some cases, when fish arrive at the processing plant, they may experience repeated crowding.
Nets are used when grading the fish, splitting one group of fish in two. It is very important that the nets and other equipment used will not injury the fish and stress the fish as little as possible. To avoid stress, we practice passive grading where the fish passes through the grading system as a part of their natural movement in the pen, and only occasionally active grading is needed.
Treatment of the fish against sea lice or against pathogens require approval by veterinarian or aqua medicine expert. For some treatments the fish fastens ahead of the treatment. This is to activate and strengthen the inherent resilience of the fish. As a carnivore animal, salmon can fasten for long periods of time. In farming however, fasting is only used when deemed strictly necessary. We carefully assess sufficient fasting time for fish before handling and harvest to ensure that fish welfare is not at risk when adhering to customer requirements, and not compromising fish health or welfare.
Today, sea lice is the main reason for treatment of salmon. Sea lice are naturally occurring in sea water, where they prey on wild as well as farmed salmon. Hence, all smolt transferred from our freshwater hatcheries are free of sea lice. Robust smolt is important for successful transition and adaptation to sea water as in this period they are most vulnerable. The accepted level of sea lice in salmon farming is defined by authorities. The level is set way below the number that would be harmful to an individual salmon.
The main approach to keep our salmon free of sea lice is preventive measures, avoiding the sea lice to attach to our salmon. The most used preventive measure is lice skirts around the pen used in periods there are much lice larvae in the water currents. Also, functional feed may play an important role.
If treatment is needed, we will select treatment that is both efficient and gentle to the fish. The use of laser against sea lice is spreading as it reduces the sea lice pressure significantly and does not stress the fish. In-feed treatment is also gentle to the fish but may lead to sea lice developing resistance and can also have environmental impacts. In-bath medical treatment will both stress the fish and may lead to sea lice developing resistance, and the water must be properly disposed.
Also, hydrogen peroxide is used, which requires handling of the fish, but the active ingredient is quickly broken down into water and oxygen and hence have very limited environmental impacts. Non-medical measures include various treatment with fresh water and sea water where the physical treatment will stress the fish.
During treatment, the impact on welfare is monitored and registered, and treatment stopped if acceptable welfare cannot be maintained. Having multiple options for treatment and select the right for each situation, is important to avoid sea lice developing resistance.
Sea lice treatment is registered and reported to authorities for each single treatment for each single site. The counting of sea lice is done by farm crew specially trained for the task. Currently automatic continuous registration systems are being tested, and in Norway dispensation from counting sea lice manually may be granted on specific conditions.
Our monthly sea lice report for each sea site are publicly available. We publish these figures on our web site for Chile and Canada, whereas figures for Norway are available at the Barentswatch web site. Aggregated annual figures for each region are reported in our sustainability report.
PATHOGENS AND DISEASES
As people and other animals, salmon may catch a bacterial infection. Maintaining fish welfare may require that we treat the fish in the pen, or alternatively humanly cull the fish if the infection is untreatable, the outbreak is grave, or it is likely that all fish quickly will have their welfare significantly reduced. Keeping the use of antibiotic at a minimum is a high priority. Using the right types and the smallest effective doses likewise. Both antibiotic and non-antibiotic treatment must be approved by veterinary or fish health experts.
Our policy for the use of antibiotics is to limit the use to cases where:
- Animal welfare is threatened by a bacterial disease
- A diagnosis of disease exists with a prescription of antibiotic by an authorized person
- The antibiotic has a proven therapeutic effect against the disease, and
- The antibiotic is approved for use in fish farming
If antibiotics is used in our food production, we would use either Florfenicol, or Oxytetracycline. Currently, these are used against outbreaks of the diseases tenacibaculosis, mouthrot, BKD, and SRS.
We have set goals for reding the use of antibiotics. However, these are not always reached as our goals are and should be a real stretch. Our use of antibiotics is included in our sustainability reporting (GRI).
RESEARCH IN FISH HEALTH
Our fish health research team is engaged in many ways is reducing the need for antibiotics, for example:
1. Developing vaccines.
Together with pharmaceutical companies we work to develop new vaccines. Our responsibility being identification and description of the pathogen and testing effect of vaccines.
2. Reducing the use to minimum effective doses
The team analyses the sensitivity of the bacteria to enable our operations setting the antibiotic doses as low as possible, still ensuring efficient short-term and long-term effects against the bacterium.
3. Identifying pathogens and sources
The R&D team analyses samples to identify pathogens that challenge fish health, they also check and investigate our freshwater facilities to disclose any in-house biosecurity challenges.
What about other species?
We farm Atlantic salmon and Coho salmon. We do not farm genetically engineered salmon, cloned or triploid salmon. While we recognize the future opportunities in CRISPR gene editing technology in food production, we respect customers’ and consumers’ concern related to such technologies.
Cermaq does not use cleaner fish, fish that eat sea lice off the salmon in the pen, because we have learned that it is too difficult to maintain the health and welfare of the cleaner fish.
In the ocean, salmon has many natural enemies, predators that eat salmon. We protect the salmon against these predators. To avoid predators getting to our salmon, we have preventive measures e.g., extra nets in regions where predators can attack through the pen. These nets are designed not to harm the predators. Also, some birds prey on salmon, especially on small salmon, and we in the same way we have nets above the pens to protect the welfare of our salmon.
However, sometimes there are unintentional interactions with wildlife. These are registered and reported. In rare situation, we have to take out a predator to secure the health and welfare of our fish when there are no other efficient measured to avoid attacks. This is the last resort, and where intentional killings is not prohibited, each incident requires approval from authorities. Interactions with wildlife are registered and reported. See detailed information in our most recent sustainability report.
Some of our farming sites are located in habitats for protected animals or animals on the red list of IUCN. This requires special attention from the management of the site including personnel engaged in transport to and from the sites. The ASC certification requires that there are no mortalities of endangered or red-listed marine mammals or birds as defined by IUCN or national endangered species list.
Survival until harvest
Our ambition is that all salmon thrive and grow until time for harvesting. However, there is a mortality during the production cycle. The survival rate for farmed salmon is tremendously high compared to nature. Which is nothing less than what should be expected. In nature, the survival rate is around 5%, while in our farming operations the annual survival rate is around 95%. Our goal is to increase that survival rate, but also ensure that our fish have good health and welfare. Hence, preventive fish health is a priority in our operations.
MORTALITY DURING PRODUCTION CYCLE
Mortality is registered at every site every day and reported for each region of the company. We calculate an annual rolling cumulative morality as a proportion of the estimated number of fish in the sea in the last 12 month of the year (adjusted for harvest, culling and all mortalities). This measurement is to adjust for short term variations and to enable to show longer term trends.
There are many causes to mortality for example, smolt may have elevated physiological stress after being transferred to seawater, environmental situations as algae, jellyfish or bio toxins, disease, handling or mechanical treatment against sea lice, and predators.
It might happen that there is an acute mortality event. Such events are immediately reported to authorities and actions according to our plans are initiated. Reason for acute mortality could be many but would most often be, sudden deterioration in the water quality or disease outbreak. Such events are commented on in the annual sustainability report.
We have defined mortality categories and register all mortalities. Based on this we work on specific mortality reducing programs in each part of our operations addressing the local situation. All regions have plans for preventive fish health measures to increase fish survival. Numbers and causes of all mortality is analyzed and reported both internally and to authorities.
TRANSPORT AND HARVEST
Standards and procedures for transport of live fish aim to secure the health and welfare of the fish during loading, transport and unloading. Basic is that equipment for example pumps, speed, and flow of water must be designed to not harm the fish. In the well boats used for transporting live fish, maintaining the water quality (oxygen and pH) and the speed is key for not stressing the fish. Cameras allows monitoring the fish behaviour during transport and act according to plans if welfare degrades during transport. Stocking density for our fish in well boats are determined by the boats technology to control the water quality parameters, and if the fish shows sign of disease specific rules set by authorities applies for transport. Not all fish are transported by well boats. Parts of our production is harvested cage side in specialized boats for this.
The goal is that salmon has a good life until the end, and the humane slaughter process is designed for this. All of our salmon (Atlantic & Coho) across all our operations in Norway, Canada and Chile are stunned by automated percussive blow prior to slaughtering (which consists of gill gut/exsanguination). If automated percussive stunning should fail for any individual salmon – Cermaq implements a back-up method of semi-automatic percussive stun by trained staff, to ensure that these fish are humanely stunned and killed prior to processing.
We believe a company which openly reports its results has a stronger basis for dialogue with stakeholders, developing trust and a better ability to actually make progress on material topics. There are many public sources for detailed information about our farming practices and performance on how we care for our fish, including:
-Cermaq’s Sustainability report (GRI standard)
-Global Salmon Initiative’s Sustainability report
-BC Salmon Farmers Association
-Norwegian Fishery Directorate
From our operations in Chile and Norway our salmon come with a CV, providing our customers with further detailed information for the salmon in the actual delivery, including :
- Production site
- When the egg was hatched
- When the smolt was transferred to sea and what the sea temperature was at that time
- Name of site manager and the veterinarian/aqua medicine expert responsible for fish health
- List of all vaccines and date of vaccination
- Date and type of any eventual treatment the fish has undergone (sea lice treatment and medication)
- Feed types specified throughout the growth period.
- Density in the pen
- Condition factor (the shape of the fish is related to the yield in processing)