Farming can create behavioural problems which affect welfare – such as tail biting in pigs and feather pecking in hens. Aquaculture is no different and the problem is fin nipping, especially by young salmon in hatcheries. This can be an issue affecting the health and welfare of the salmon throughout their life cycle.
The ingenuity of our hatchery manager, David Roadknight, produced a solution which has attracted attention internationally.
The innovative answer was based on ‘thinking like the fish’. Tank interiors provide a very bland and uninteresting environment, even for very young fish. The staff concluded that putting some environmental enrichment into the tanks might help to reduce the boredom factor, in case by using tarpaulin strips and strings of brightly coloured balls.
The tarpaulin strips are hung in the tanks to give the fish a place to hide. Hiding is a natural instinct essential to survival for young fish and now they are able to fulfil this. Hiding also gives a measure of protection against ‘bully’ fish – the major biting culprits. The balls are for a slightly different reason.
All animals play and salmon are no different. This can lead to behavioural problems with the dominant fish nipping the dorsal fins of their tank mates – a sort of fish tag game with consequences. Once this behaviour starts, it is very hard to stop. The balls are points of interest and items for the salmon to play with and around – and it can now be confirmed that they do, breaking the pattern of endless aimless circles.
This innovative idea can transform the tank environment and give the fish a better life whilst reducing behavioural issues. It is wonderful to be able to confirm the interest of Stirling University to evaluate this approach though it is already clear to us that it changes the swim patterns in tanks and dorsal fin quality has improved.
Back in 2005, when we won ‘Gold Award – Best Food’ in the first Daily Telegraph/Sainsbury’s ‘Taste of Britain’ Award, we made a statement about our welfare policies which made the headlines. ‘Fish can be happy too…’ it read – and in this dynamic young industry, we are still learning and innovating to achieve this.