The Telegram - St. John's, NL
Salmon containment standards not being enforced
Published on June 21, 2014
This letter is a response to Miranda Pryor, “Clearing the water on salmon escapes,” published in The Telegram on June 17.
It is ironic that Pryor thinks Newfoundland and Labrador has been recognized by the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO) for the province’s code of containment.
The Atlantic Salmon Federation and World Wildlife Fund actually recognized NL in our 2005 assessment that was based on NASCO criteria and gauged the impacts that aquaculture policies in several North Atlantic countries were having on wild Atlantic salmon. We acknowledged that NL had standards for containment, as well as for site management, contingency plans and notification of escapes in place.
However, these standards are not being enforced. The Newfoundland auditor general (AG) has reported that inspections are not being conducted to the degree required. Even when inspections are done and violations detected, often there is no action taken to correct the identified problems. The AG’s most recent update on this states that corrective actions have still not been taken.
With respect to recapture methodologies, the truth is that when aquaculture fish escape, there are no effective means of recapturing them because the fish go deep and then disperse quickly.
To quote Geoff Perry, DFO’s director of aquaculture, when he spoke at the Salmonid Advisory meetings in Gander last fall, “any suggestion that escaped aquaculture fish can be recaptured is pure optics.”
If, as Pryor says, the industry’s containment systems are “built to withstand the challenging North Atlantic weather conditions, and our farmers are vigilant at regularly inspecting and maintaining the integrity of their farms,” how does she explain the reported escapes of more than 800,000 farmed salmonids since the industry began? Fisheries Minister Keith Hutchings recently reported that 28,000 farmed salmon a year escape.
These escapees could have a large impact on the 22,000 wild salmon left on the entire south coast of Newfoundland.
Pryor says that “escapes have dramatically reduced since the early 1990s, and over the last 10 years have represented less than one per cent of the total number of salmon in the water at any one time.”
Well, that is a frightening figure considering that there are 15 million farmed fish in the water at any one time. That’s 150,000 escapes annually, and industry wants to double their operations in the next five years.
Pryor cavalierly dismisses interbreeding with a wild population as having little impact, because, she writes, only small amounts of new genetic material is being added, and natural selection continues to play a role.
She doesn’t provide any scientific references for this but we do have plenty of scientific references that say just the opposite.
One is research on interactions between wild and farmed salmon on the Magaguadavic River in N.B., where farmed salmon escapees have outnumbered wild salmon for many years and now the wild run is pretty well gone. To find out more, visit: http://asf.ca/aquaculture-in-need-of-change.html.
Pryor conveniently leaves out fish farming in her list of threats to wild Atlantic salmon.
DFO says the biggest threats affecting wild salmon populations are occurring in the ocean. One of those threats is aquaculture.
Here’s DFO’s input into the discussions on declaring south coast salmon threatened: “There have been many reviews and studies showing that the presence of farmed salmon results in reduced survival and fitness of wild Atlantic salmon, through competition, interbreeding and disease.’’ (Source: www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/csas-sccs/Publications/SAR-AS/2012/2012_007-eng.pdf.)
Pryor writes that “according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, over the past 30+ years of monitoring the rivers along the south coast, very few farmed salmon have ever been found in a river (as reported during DFO’s annual regional advisory process).”
What she failed to mention is that when DFO was questioned about this statement at that same meeting, the department also confirmed that the 30 plus years of monitoring referred to was simply counting wild salmon in counting fences, not sampling and monitoring to look for aquaculture fish.
On the Conne River, the one river during that time where the presence of aquaculture fish was monitored for one or two years, the presence of farmed fish was confirmed.
In the past year and a half alone, based on public complaints, DFO has confirmed the presence of farmed fish in 10 rivers on the south coast, and confirmed that some of these farmed fish were sexually mature. As Pryor very well knows, there has never been an ongoing research monitoring program in place for examining for such interactions, nor is there any such monitoring program in place currently.
Pryor refers to a publication of the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organization that claimed that there is no difference between the pattern of decline in Scotland’s west coast and east coast salmon catches and thus salmon farming has had no effect on wild salmon catches.
This fallacy was countered by a comprehensive analysis of official catch statistics by the River and Fisheries Trusts of Scotland. The analysis concluded that there is a clear trend of declining salmon catches, compared with catches on the east coast, in areas where the Scottish aquaculture industry operates. More to the point, let’s look at the state of wild salmon stocks in the location of fish farms in Eastern Canada.
These wild salmon are either already listed as endangered or have been designated by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada as threatened or endangered. In 2008, Dalhousie University researchers Jennifer Ford and Ransom Myers confirmed that, globally, there is a much steeper decline in numbers of wild salmon living in rivers adjacent to the salmon farming industry, for some populations by as much as 50 per cent.
Finally, I question Pryor’s labelling of open pen farmed salmon as “healthy.”
Personally, I prefer to eat salmon raised in a sustainable manner, without pesticides to treat sea lice and antibiotics to treat disease, and with no impact on adjacent wild fish or the environment.
That is the promise of closed-containment operations, and I will wait until this industry fills the market to satisfy consumers like me, before I eat farmed salmon raised in open pen marine cages.
Director, Newfoundland and Labrador programs
Atlantic Salmon Federation
LETTER BY MIRANDA PRYOR
Clearing the water on salmon escapes
Published on June 17, 2014
I’m writing in response to the recent letter by Dr. Stephen Sutton from James Cook University in Australia regarding the grossly inaccurate information about farmed salmon escapes provided by the Atlantic Salmon Federation
Newfoundland and Labrador salmon farmers do not want to lose a single fish. Their fish are their livelihood. Our farmers regard the prevention of escapes as a top priority. Working with the federal and provincial regulatory agencies, the fish farmers in this province developed a code of containment that has strict guidelines regarding topics such as net strengths and recapture methodologies, that has been recognized internationally by the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO).
The guidelines specify all aspects of containment — from the design plans of the facility, appropriate mooring systems, structural components and netting — and they reflect the environmental conditions of the farm location. Our containment systems are built to withstand the challenging North Atlantic weather conditions, and our farmers are vigilant at regularly inspecting and maintaining the integrity of their farms.
higherDespite the precautions that our farmers take, sometimes escapes happen as the result of extreme weather, predators damaging nets or during harvesting. Escapes have dramatically reduced since the early 1990s, and over the last 10 years have represented less than one per cent of the total number of salmon in the water at any one time.
A farmed salmon that escapes into the wild is poorly adapted for survival, and only small proportions of escaped salmon survive. A small number of farmed salmon interbreeding with a wild population has little impact because only small amounts of new genetic material is being added, and natural selection continues to play a role.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada continues to monitor stock status in Canada, and the greatest threats to wild salmon recovery/wild populations continue to be intercept fisheries (off St-Pierre and elsewhere), poaching, bycatch in commercial fisheries, habitat alteration by dams, roads, pollution and climate change.
According to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, over the past 30+ years of monitoring the rivers along the south coast, very few farmed salmon have ever been found in a river (as reported during DFO’s annual regional advisory process).
Most have been likely eaten by predators or simply did not survive in the wild. To date, no evidence of spawning or inter-breeding has been found.
DFO continues to monitor the rivers along the south coast of Newfoundland and current DFO research studies are underway examining the genetics of wild salmon populations along the entire south coast (from Port-aux-Basques to the southern tip of the Avalon Peninsula), with one aspect of its research being to look for any evidence of wild/farmed interactions,
Furthermore, studies have been done and are being planned to further understand what happens to a farmed salmon once it does “escape” a net pen.
Industry fully supports all such work.
The most recent science on a global basis does not support the contention that farmed salmon decimate wild salmon. In fact, science shows that farmed salmon impacts are limited on wild salmon populations.
Glover et al. (www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2156/14/74) employed modern genomics tools to evaluate the levels of introgression (mixing) between farmed escapes and wild salmon in 20 rivers in Norway over the past three decades. They found that the levels of introgression were lower than predicted by simple, one-time escapes or small escape events from farms.
Unsurprisingly, they also found the level of mixing of the wild and farmed fish depends to a large extent on the magnitude, duration and repeated escape events. What is also often ignored are the years of ranching and questionable salmon enhancement programs that operated in most jurisdictions in the 1970s into the 1990s.
We often hear that “where there is a salmon farm there are no wild salmon.”
In spite of years of data collection, the evidence is still inconclusive, at best.
We see some of the greatest declines in salmon rivers in areas without salmon farms and some of the greatest recoveries in rivers in areas with salmon farms. Scotland is an excellent example. Declines in salmon population are being seen in 90 per cent of the salmon rivers on the east side of the country — nowhere near salmon farms.
Yes, finfish aquaculture can have a limited impact on the environment like any food production or other human activity for that matter.
But over the past decade, the aquaculture industry has used the best available science to make significant improvements and reduce our environmental footprint.
The salmon farming industry is one of this region’s biggest economic drivers, employing more than 3,000 Atlantic Canadians and generating more than $400 million to our provincial economies. In Newfoundland and Labrador in 2013, the aquaculture industry created 1,000 direct jobs and had a production value of $197 million.
Our farmers produce one of the healthiest foods you can eat. They are your neighbours and friends and they are committed to continuing to build the most responsible and sustainable aquaculture industries in the world.
Miranda Pryor is the executive director of the Newfoundland Aquaculture Industry Association