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Farmed Salmon Showing Up at Magaguadavic Fishway

TELEGRAPH JOURNAL

Environment
Farmed salmon showing up at Magaguadavic fish ladder

DERWIN GOWAN

TELEGRAPH-JOURNAL
14 Oct 2013 06:26PM

Government, industry and environmental organizations need to talk about aquaculture salmon on the lam, Jonathan Carr said in an interview on Friday.

Escapees at the Magaguadavic River counting fence this month provide a tell-tale sign of at least one unreported break-out from a fish farm, the Atlantic Salmon Federation’s director of research and environment said.

He cannot say where these fish escaped from. “Well, that’s what we don’t know because no one’s reported it,” he said.

Neither does Pamela Parker, executive director of Atlantic Canada Fish Farmers’ Association. “At this time we don’t know where these fish came from,” she said in an email.

She disputes Carr’s contention that the escaped 73 aquaculture fish in the Magaguadavic this year up to Oct. 11, including 52 between Oct. 2 and 11, indicate a reported large escape.

“The fish they are finding are of varying sizes which seems to indicate that a small number of fish may have escaped from a variety of farms – this can happen when there is a small tear in the net that isn’t found before divers do their inspections and subsequent repairs, or from human error during harvesting,” she wrote.

The law requires salmon farmers to report escapes of 100 or more fish. “We are not aware of any reportable escape event having occurred,” she wrote.

She agrees with Carr that this is the largest number of aquaculture escapees to show up in the Magaguadavic since 2001. “As Mr. Carr reported we have not seen this many escaped fish in over a decade,” she wrote.

Farmed salmon interbreeding with wild fish alarm conservationists.

As of Friday, only six wild salmon came back to spawn in the Magaguadavic River this year, Carr said. Last year only one fish came back, despite a massive annual enhancement effort.

Within living memory, 800 salmon returned to the Magaguadavic in a year. Today, aquaculture escapees outnumber the native fish.

The fish ladder and counting fence at the hydroelectric dam across the river at St. George allow the ASF to stop unwanted fish.

However, fish farm escapees have free run of most other rivers without similar barriers, Carr said,

The industry and conservationists agree that less than one per cent of farmed salmon survive in the open sea after they escape. The numbers reaching freshwater at the Magaguadavic fish ladder represent a much large number of escapees, Carr and others argue.

Further, not all escaped fish head for the one river with a year-round counting fence. If aquaculture salmon head up the Magaguadavic, they likely reached over local rivers, brooks and streams, too, conservationists argue.

The 52 farmed fish in the Magaguadavic River over 10 days adds up to “a breach of tens of thousands” the way that Carr does the arithmetic.

In 2005 after vandals slashed nets at five cage sites near Deer Island, only 30 of the escaped fish reached the Magaguadavic, Carr said. At the time the Telegraph-Journal reported that up to 100,000 fish escaped, and that the ASF recovered 45 from streams and rivers in Charlotte County.

Except, Parker stated in her email, the escaped salmon coming up the Magaguadavic this year are not all the same size.

Commercial sea farms keep only one age-class of fish in a floating cage. If the escapees came from only one cage, they should all look the same.

Carr wants New Brunswick to adopt rules similar to Maine where DNA allows the authorities to trace any escaped fish back to the cage from which it came. He supports Maine’s mandatory inspections when escaped fish show up. He would change the rules to require reporting of all escapes, not just 100 or more.

The federation will give samples from the escaped fish to Maine authorities to determine if they came from American sea cages.

Carr described it as “useful” to the industry as well as conservation organizations to know from where escaped fish come. It would allow the industry to fix the problem, and the authorities to deploy resources, Carr said.

He envisions movable barriers to place across rivers once an escape is reported.

First, however, the industry, government and non-governmental organizations need to sit down together and talk, he said. “We all should be at the table.”

They should improve “transparency and accountability,” he said. “Our frustration is with the law(s) now. They are not being followed.”

“None of our farmers want to lose fish,” Parker wrote. “It’s important to note that there are over five million farmed salmon contained in farms in southwest New Brunswick and escapes are actually a very rare occurrence.”