CHRIS Packham has called for a halt to the “catastrophic” expansion of the Scottish salmon industry.

The broadcaster said the growing industry would have damning consequences for fish welfare and Scotland’s environment, as figures suggested salmon mortality in fish farms hit record levels this year.

Packham, the president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), said millions of fish are dying prematurely in a newsletter to supporters of Animal Equality (AE).

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf responds to David Cameron's 'petty' letter to Scottish Government

Animal rights campaigners supported Packham’s comments but said it highlighted the “untenable position” of the RSPCA’s welfare approval scheme.

In 2022, the charity received £700,000 in membership and licence fees from salmon farmers and producers who take part in its RSPCA Assured scheme.

The RSPCA insisted that their president made the comments in a personal capacity.

Salmon Scotland accused Packham of stating several misconceptions they say are perpetrated by "anti-salmon activists".

“Millions of fish are dying prematurely, parasites and diseases are out of control, and Scotland’s natural environment is suffering as farm waste blights the seabed,” Packham wrote, urging AE supporters to donate to the charity to halt the expansion of Scottish salmon farming.

The National: Salmon farm

He said he was speaking as a “leading campaigner” for animal protection, adding: “Escapes and interbreeding with wild fish is leading to compromised fitness and increased sea-lice risks for wild populations.”

Rachel Mulrenan, Scotland director at Wildfish, told the Guardian: “Any public figure making a commitment to raise awareness of the issues with salmon farming is positive. But this dual role that the RSPCA is playing is unhelpful.

“RSPCA Assured should not be certifying salmon farms, it interferes with the work of the organisation to raise awareness of action needed.

“The certificate is a proxy for good environmental performance and welfare, but this is not matched on the water. Look at the mortality numbers this month alone.”

READ MORE: Rejigged Rwanda plan 'does not go far enough', say Tory lawyers

Don Staniford, of the $camon $cotland campaign, added: “Packham is raising a legitimate issue. The latest data from October shows the highest level of mortality in salmon farms. If their own president is raising the issue then the RSPCA’s position is untenable.”

Figures released by the Fish Health Inspectorate reported 13.5 million salmon mortalities were reported by Scottish farms between January and October this year.

This is compared to 11.5m during the same period in 2022, a year that saw salmon deaths on farms almost double. This was reportedly due to growing levels of parasites, disease and jellyfish swarms.

The National: A salmon farm

The RSPCA insisted that Packham’s role as president was “non governance”.

In a statement, the charity said: “We are proud to have Chris Packham, a passionate campaigner for animals, as our president and we share his desire to create a better world for all animals.

“The charity created the world’s first welfare standards for salmon produced in the UK, in response to the absence of specific legislation. They have raised welfare conditions globally and are continuing to drive positive change.”

Dr Iain Berrill, head of technical at Salmon Scotland, said he was "disappointed" Packham cited "several misconceptions" they say are perpetrated by "anti-salmon activists".

READ MORE: Scottish Government report 'showcases' embassies UK threatens to shut

“The truth is that Scottish salmon farmers provide the highest welfare standards anywhere in the world for the animals in their care, and are independently certified by RSPCA Assured," Berrill said. 

“The stocking density of Scotland’s salmon farms required by RSPCA Assured is a minimum of 98 per cent water when the fish are fully grown – plenty of room for salmon to naturally shoal, as animal experts know.

“While no farmer wants to lose any animal, the care our farmers are able to provide means that survival rates for farm-raised salmon - which spend up two years in the sea - are significantly higher than their wild cousins, with average monthly survival rates of around 97%."

Berrill said Salmon Scotland was "not aware" of Packham ever visiting a salmon farm but extended an invitation for him to do so to "see the reality".