JOBS have been cut in the Scottish salmon farming industry despite record levels of production, a report has revealed.

The Scottish Government’s Fish Farm Production Survey has found that, in 2021, the number of people employed in farmed salmon production has dropped by over 8%, with the number of staff being cut by 135 to 1495.

This is the second year in a row that staff numbers have dropped but marks an increase in the rate of decline, with a cut of 21 workers registered in 2020.

This comes as production of Atlantic Salmon in 2021 jumped by 13,264 tonnes (7%) to 205,393 tonnes – which is the highest level of production ever recorded in Scotland.

READ MORE: Scottish salmon farming: Near record profit but at what cost?

The industry trend is concentrating salmon production in larger sites, with 87% of production coming from farms producing over 1000 tonnes per annum.

With the reduction in staff and production being concentrated on bigger farms, there was an increase in the productivity of tonnes produced per worker from 117.9 to 137.4.

Commenting on the report's findings, the founder of environmental activist group Inside Scottish Salmon Feedlots, Corin Smith, said the report "lays bare" the reality of how the industry benefits coastal communities.

He said: "Employment on salmon feedlots is falling and actually no higher than it was in 2000. The only aspect of the industry that's growing is the hundreds of HGVs now plaguing the west coast, disposing of the millions of salmon dying prematurely on feedlots.

"Coastal communities suffer all the pollution and harms but receive no meaningful benefits. Salmon feedlots represent exploitation and pollution in extreme."

John Aitchison, of the Coastal Communities Network said: "Year after year these reports show that around a quarter of Scotland’s farmed salmon die at sea in their cages. That’s tens of millions of fish dead and millions more suffering. No other type of farming has such high mortality rates. 

"The usual reason given by officials and ministers for why fish farming must expand, often against local communities’ wishes,  is that it creates jobs in fragile rural economies but this report shows that the number of people directly employed on the farms is falling too.  

"Meanwhile, climate change is warming up the sea, contributing to the poor gill health that is at the heart of each year’s terrible mortality figures." 

Commenting on the report, Tavish Scott, chief executive of Salmon Scotland, the industry’s representative body, said: “2021 was a record year for Scottish salmon and that is credit to the hard-working farmers and everyone in our sector who rose to the challenge of meeting demand for our world-renowned fish.

“We put the best-tasting and healthiest protein product on people’s plates and deliver the highest environmental and welfare standards.

“Our sector supports more than 2500 direct and 10,000 indirect jobs, most of which are in some of the country’s most fragile coastal communities, generating hundreds of millions of pounds for our economy."

On the finding that staffing on farms dipped, a spokesperson for Salmon Scotland said: "The job numbers in the 2021 production survey relate only to frontline salmon farming staff, not the myriad roles in processing, technical and support functions.

"The headcount in direct farming was down in 2021, likely to be due to a combination of the effect of Brexit and Covid - which was with us for much of 2021. The tight labour market and the lack of affordable, available housing in the Highlands and islands, something we’ve been campaigning to fix, means that these vacancies are hard to fill, but the jobs are still there.

"This is also why we are calling on the UK Government to implement a sensible, skills-led immigration policy."

Scottish farmed salmon is the UK’s largest food export, with sales reaching a near all-time high of £614 million in 2021 but has also raised concerns among activists over its environmental impact.

Earlier this month, activists from Ocean Rebellion protested outside the Scottish Parliament carrying briefcases with “war on wild fish”, “farmed salmon” and “dirty money” to highlight the “environmental tragedy” of salmon farming.

The group accused the industry of dumping harmful chemicals into Scotland’s marine environment and disturbing natural wildlife.

In response, Salmon Scotland said that the industry “meets the highest environmental standards”.