Volunteers from the Scottish salmon farming industry have cleared away more than 23 tonnes of litter from Scottish beaches last year, as part of efforts to keep the areas they live and work in clean.

Volunteers from the salmon industry, often working in partnership with local groups, proactively clear away litter every year, with the data compiled for 2023 not covering all farms and therefore likely to be a significant underestimate of the total amount removed.

Figures reported by five salmon producers – Mowi Scotland, Scottish Sea Farms, Bakkafrost Scotland, Cooke Aquaculture Scotland and Loch Duart – showed that staff cleared away 23.6 tonnes of litter, the equivalent weight of around 18 Volkswagen Golf cars.

During 2023 staff from the five companies spent a total of 661 hours clearing litter, volunteering the equivalent of 83 working days.

“While the efforts of the volunteers who took part in these clean-ups are to be applauded, the sheer amount of discarded litter and washed-up waste they found on local beaches is truly shocking,” said Tavish Scott, chief executive of Salmon Scotland, in a press release.

Some of the beach litter collected was aquaculture related, although much was also household or recreational waste, such as children’s toys and sanitary products.

Among the more unusual items collected were a car licence plate, an engine belt, a windscreen and steering wheel, as well as a barbecue and multiple discarded shoes.

The beaches covered during the clean-up efforts ranged from Orkney to the Hebridean islands of North and South Uist, Lewis, Barra, Skye, Rum, Muck and Gigha. The volunteers also visited beaches and harbours on Scotland’s north-west coast as well as cleaning up parts of Loch Shiel, Loch Garry, Loch Arkaig and Loch Leven.

Dealing with litter is an ongoing operation for salmon producers. In February, volunteers from the salmon industry were praised by the Highland Council for helping to clear more than 300 tyres illegally dumped down a steep bank onto the shores of Loch Ness.

Salmon farmers have the people and boats to access some of Scotland’s most remote beachline so are uniquely placed to make a contribution to the challenge of marine litter.

“Our salmon farmers are lucky to live and work in some of Scotland’s most stunning coastal areas, and are happy to play their part in regular beach cleans to help keep the shores clean for everyone to enjoy,” commented Scott.

As well as voluntarily taking part in beach cleans, in 2020 salmon farmers made a sustainability charter commitment to avoid marine debris coming from their own farms and to recover any reported items. Members of the public can report aquaculture debris via a marine debris hotline.