Latest Farmed Salmon Escape Threatens Wild Salmon
September 26, 2013
The Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) and the Salmon Council of Newfoundland and Labrador (SCNL) share deep concerns over a recent escape reported to be 20,000 farmed salmon, from a Cooke Aquaculture farm site into Hermitage Bay last week. The timing of the escape coincides with the wild salmon spawning season, which increases the likelihood and severity of negative interactions between wild and farmed fish. Both groups are calling on the Newfoundland government to develop and implement a comprehensive monitoring program for wild and escaped farmed salmon on the south coast, where salmon production has more than tripled in the past decade.
Cooke Aquaculture has assured the public that the escaped farmed salmon pose no threat to the local environment. Don Ivany, ASF’s Director of Programs for NL, says that enough scientific evidence exists on the interaction between wild and farmed salmon to suggest otherwise: “All of the fish from this most recent escape are mature fish, and now we’re into the fall of the year when most salmon begin to spawn. There is a high risk for interaction between these escaped farmed salmon and our wild fish, and the timing of the escape couldn’t be worse”.
When farmed and wild salmon interbreed, the resulting progeny are less able to survive than their wild counterparts and are less likely to produce healthy offspring themselves.
Don Hutchens, President of the SCNL agrees that this escape poses a high risk to wild salmon along the Coast of Bays area, adding that plans to recapture the escaped farmed fish will likely be unsuccessful. “We know that when farmed salmon escape, they tend to hang around the cage site for a couple of days and then they disperse. Once they’ve dispersed, it is a well-known fact that there is no effective way to recapture them. Once these escaped fish enter our rivers this time of year, it’s too late; they can compete with or spawn with our wild fish”, says Mr. Hutchens.
Both Mr. Hutchens and Mr. Ivany also point out that no comprehensive monitoring programs exist to sample and identify returning salmon as wild or farmed along the South Coast, where the aquaculture industry currently operates. “We will likely never know how many of these fish made it into our rivers, whether they carried diseases or parasites with them, or what effect an escape of this magnitude had on our local environment”, says Mr. Hutchens.
Newfoundland’s salmon farming industry has been plagued with problems this year, including three outbreaks of Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA) this summer according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s website, and confirmation by DFO of farmed salmon in half a dozen rivers on the South Coast in the past 12 months from previous escape events.
“If you add up all of these incidents of disease outbreaks and escapes, you conclude that this industry is not sustainable, both from an economic and environmental standpoint. The province of NL should invest in a transition to environmentally-sustainable alternatives, such as closed containment salmon aquaculture on land”, says Mr. Ivany.
“We’ve got the skills and knowledge to begin developing that industry right here in Newfoundland”, says Mr. Ivany, “we just need support from our provincial government to do it”.
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.