THE amount of salmon and trout produced in Scottish fish farms has fallen despite more people being employed in the industry, new figures have revealed.

Production of farm-reared Atlantic salmon decreased by 33,682 tonnes (17.8%), to 156,025 tonnes, according to the 2018 fish farm production statistics.

Rainbow trout production also dropped, by 16% in 2018 to 6413 tonnes, while brown and sea trout fell by more than two-thirds in a year, dropping from 61 tonnes in 2017 to 20 tonnes in 2018.

The large drop in farmed salmon produced was blamed on a “one-off adjustment by farmers” to combat a biological issue that saw fish suffer with gill problems.

Julie Hesketh-Laird, chief executive of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation, claimed the long-term outlook for salmon produced in fish farms remains strong.

Explaining the fall, Hesketh-Laird said: “The anticipated dip in production in 2018 was the result of a one-off adjustment by farmers on stocking the year before to ensure control over some biological issues which had been witnessed in previous years. The result was that in 2018 there were fewer fish in the water to harvest.

“The outlook for 2019 is good, with production predicted to be up because of adjusted stocking levels and good continued management of fish health, and in line with the general trend of growth which has characterised the Scottish salmon sector over the last few years.”

The total number of staff in marine salmon production increased by 77 to 1466 in 2018 and, welcoming the figures, Fisheries Secretary Fergus Ewing said: “Aquaculture is vital to our rural economy, generating more than £620 million of added value to the Scottish economy every year, and supporting thousands of jobs in some of our most fragile coastal communities.

“It is essential that we support our aquaculture sector and its sustainable growth, to ensure that economic opportunities are maximised, whilst ensuring the highest standards of animal welfare and environmental protection.

“We continue to work with Parliament, the sector and other key stakeholders to improve fish health through our farmed fish health framework, and ensure that Scottish farmed fish retains its reputation as being amongst the best in the world.”

Warning of the risk to the industry posed by Brexit, Ewing added: “The statistics serve as a timely reminder that the EU remains our largest trading partner for overseas exports, demonstrating the critical importance of maintaining frictionless trade with the European single market for our aquaculture industry.

“The consequences of a No-Deal Brexit cannot be underplayed and threatens not only the success of Scottish aquaculture, but jobs, investment and living standards across the whole of Scotland.

“That is why we continue to press the UK Government to take a No-Deal Brexit off the table immediately.”

The figures follow several reports of mass mortalities at separate sites, related to problems like killer lice, which can also be found in wild populations.

A petition this summer by consumer group SumOfUs and Scottish Salmon Watch calling for a new emergency inspection regime.

It was signed by more than

43,000 people.