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Gov't Needs to Start Solving Salmon Farming Woes

HARBOUR BRETON COASTER - Opinion

Aug. 20, 2013

Government needs to start solving farming woes

Dear Editor:

The Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) is responding to recent remarks by government and industry in the media, blaming ‘the wild’ for recent outbreaks of Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA) in the salmon farming industry.

Yes, ISA is known to be in the wild, but its presence there was never a problem until net cages crowded with salmon caused epidemics. Another thought, if “the wild” is such a problem for the industry, why not try closed-containment, which would completely separate the industry from our valuable wild resources?

Jonathan Carr, ASF’s Director of Research and Environment, said, “Poor husbandry practices increase stress levels in fish which can lead to ISA outbreaks. Many farmed fish in close quarters in open net pens, along with the pens themselves in close proximity to each other, have the potential to spread the ISA virus like wildfire, resulting in massive kills of farmed salmon. When it comes to disease outbreaks and their imminent spread, there is a strong need for research on the interactions between wild and farmed salmon, and how the threats can be mitigated.”

Control of the many environmental impacts is a challenge because government and industry continue to deny the existence of these impacts, which slows progress towards effective management and husbandry.

Government has also been closeminded to any new research and development into closed-containment facilities that would completely separate the farming of salmon from wild fish and the environment. Government continues to look upon open net pen salmon aquaculture as the remedy for unemployment in rural areas, despite interruptions in production, and the resulting significant loss of fish and jobs, due to ISA-caused fish kills.

When the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) orders the diseased fish killed, the industry is often compensated, and it continues to operate as before, collecting its 50% profits at the expense of our environment, fish and other sea creatures and the industries that depend on healthy wild populations.

There have been five outbreaks in the past year of ISA in the migration corridor for wild Atlantic salmon of the Conne and Little Rivers .

Beginning in July of 2012, there have been ISA outbreaks at Butter Cove, Pot Harbour, Goblin Cove, Pass My Can, and Manuel’s Arm that involved the destruction of approximately 1.8 million fish.

All the diseased fish were in the direct path of migrating wild salmon, both outgoing smolt and returning adults.

“The close proximity of cages and rampant spread of ISA suggests that this strain is spread from farm to farm, possibly by ocean currents, and this does not bode well for migrating wild salmon as they must pass in close proximity to the infected farms through the narrow Bay d’Espoir corridor,” continued Mr. Carr.

The CFIA is still working with the company on compensation for the July 2012 outbreak at Butter Cove but $13 million was the figure given in one media report and that outbreak killed 450,000-farmed salmon.

When open net salmon farming operates near wild salmon, these populations decline at a faster rate than do wild salmon populations that are not adjacent to the industry.

The Conne River salmon population has declined more than any other monitored river within the province of Newfoundland and Labrador (>70% decline from 1986 to 2011).

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) has assessed the salmon populations of the Conne and Little Rivers as threatened. ISA is not a new disease. It has followed the industry wherever it has operated in eastern Canada from New Brunswick, where the first outbreak was detected in 1996, to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. It has caused massive losses for salmon farmers in Norway, Scotland, Chile, and the Faroes.

With this record, how could government not consider closed-containment salmon aquaculture as an option that warrants further investigation?

ASF and the Conservation Fund Freshwater Institute encourage government and industry to attend an international summit on fish farming in land-based, closed-containment systems that they are hosting in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, September 4 to 6, 2013. We have partnered since 2011 to demonstrate the feasibility of producing farmed Atlantic salmon in landbased, recirculation aquaculture systems. This project is sustainably producing thousands of pounds of premium salmon that are receiving rave reviews from chefs, seafood distributors and the general public on taste and quality. The workshop will provide updates on research and development, including a chance to hear from entrepreneurs in the United States, Denmark, Canada, Chile, Holland, and Norway who are successfully growing fish this way.

Closed-containment needs to be considered as an alternative to open net pen fish farming, with its inherent escapes that threaten wild salmon in nearby rivers with genetic pollution, and the ongoing threats of disease, parasites and polluted sea floors below the cages. In the meantime, government and industry must implement better management practices for open net pens to minimize diseases such as ISA and its spread within Newfoundland’s once pristine bays.

The Atlantic Salmon Federation is dedicated to the conservation, protection and restoration of wild Atlantic salmon and the ecosystems on which their well-being and survival depend. ASF has a network of seven regional councils (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Maine and Western New England). The regional councils cover the freshwater range of the Atlantic salmon in Canada and the United States.

ASF Contact: Livia Goodbrand, Manager of Public Information: Lgoodbrand@asf.ca; 506-529-1033 (o); 506-469-1033 (c)