Our work Animals in Aotearoa Factory Farms of the Sea

Factory Farms of the Sea

When we imagine salmon in their natural habitat, we think of the freedom they experience and the vast distances they travel. We think of their determination to swim upstream and even climb waterfalls! We think of their amazing ability to adapt from freshwater to saltwater. We think of them this way because that is what nature intended. 

Sadly, just beneath the pristine waters of the Marlborough Sounds and Stewart Island, millions of salmon are living secret lives of misery and suffering in underwater factory farms. These farms have no place in Aotearoa and SAFE is working towards a ban on fish farming – something Argentina has already achieved. Until then, it’s important to ensure that those trapped in this cruel system are better protected. SAFE is calling on NAWAC to create a code of welfare for farmed fishes, as a matter of urgency.

Urge NAWAC to draft a Code of Welfare for farmed fishes

Fishes are recognised as sentient in New Zealand law, yet there is currently no code of welfare for farmed fishes. The National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) has had a code of welfare for farmed fishes on its to-do list for seven years.

Meanwhile, over a million fishes are trapped on salmon farms in Aotearoa, stressed, depressed and swimming in circles.

High mortality rates, poor water quality, bone deformities and overcrowding are just some of the issues affecting farmed fishes.

Please email NAWAC using the form below (or overwrite the pre-written email with your own message) to encourage NAWAC to prioritise drafting a Code of Welfare for farmed fishes as a matter of urgency.



Factory farms of the sea

Fish farms are big business in Aotearoa, meaning that millions of salmon are trapped in barren underwater cages, out of sight and out of mind for a lot of people.

Fishes are recognised under New Zealand law as sentient. This means they are capable of suffering and deserving of welfare protection. Without minimal protections in place, salmon in Aotearoa are exposed to horrific conditions.

High mortality

The mortality rates for New Zealand farmed salmon are shocking. King Salmon (New Zealand’s largest producer of farmed salmon) regularly reports mortality rates of over 20%. In 2022 King Salmon’s predicted profits were revised down approximately 40% off the back of mass salmon deaths.

Water quality and temperature, bone deformities, the inability to escape danger and the stress of handling are likely to be contributing factors to these grim statistics. With no Code of Welfare for farmed fishes, these high mortality rates are likely to continue unless the industry is guided by a Code of Welfare.


Currently, there is no legal maximum ‘stocking density’ to provide guidance to fish farmers. In a single sea cage, tens of thousands of salmon are crammed into a space that equates to only a bathtub’s worth of water per salmon.

Overcrowding has been shown to increase cortisol (stress hormone) levels and mortality rates in salmon. Having a code of welfare for farmed fishes is a good starting point, however, currently, no such code of welfare exists. The National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) are responsible for developing these codes.

Stressed and depressed

“It is common on salmon farms to find as many as a quarter of individuals with stunted growth and abnormal behaviour, often floating lifelessly at the surface of the tank. They are described as ‘losers’ or ‘drop-outs’ and until recently the cause was unknown.  


A recent study showed that the behaviours and brain chemistry of these salmon was similar to those seen in stressed and depressed mammals. They are unable to cope with the level of constant and inescapable stress, and essentially give up on life.” –  Brown, Culum and Dorey, Catherine, Pain and Emotion in Fishes – Fish Welfare Implications for Fisheries and Aquaculture, Animal Studies Journal, 8(2), 2019, 175-201

Inability to escape dangers

Heat stress is causing major harm to New Zealand farmed fishes. As our oceans heat up, farmed salmon are trapped, unable to swim to the safety of cooler waters.

Between December 2021 and February 2022, New Zealand King Salmon dumped 1269 tonnes of dead fish in 160 trips to the landfill, after a hot summer caused salmon to die in alarmingly high numbers. This devastating loss of life should never have been allowed to happen.

A code of welfare for farmed fishes must be created as a matter of urgency, before another disaster like this occurs. Take action ­– contact NAWAC today and demand better protection for farmed fishes

You can be an advocate for these amazing animals

The National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) has had a code of welfare for farmed fishes on their to-do list for seven years. Let them know that the fish welfare can not be put off another year – we need a code of welfare now!



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