Salmon Genes Reveal Something Fishy


"This is a big deal": Salmon genes reveal something fishy


SEPT. 8, 2018

Something fishy is going on in New Brunswick’s rivers, according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

It has the Atlantic Salmon Federation calling for rigorous government response.

In a report published Aug. 31, the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat found genetic traces of foreign species in the disappearing inner Bay of Fundy salmon. The source of this ancestry, it states,“appears to be local … industry” and its escaped stock.

“Analysis indicate that farm salmon escapes exhibiting Euro - pean ancestry have successfully reproduced in several (inner Bay of Fundy) rivers and appear to have spawned with endangered (inner Bay of Fundy) Atlantic Salmon,” reads the report.

The problem with this, the report goes on to say, is that these hybrids “may exhibit reduced early juvenile survival.” And any reduction is a concern for the inner Bay of Fundy Salmon, which has nearly disappeared from the Fundy’s rivers. 

In a statement issued Thursday, the Atlantic Salmon Federation called revelation in the report “disturbing.”

“We expect the federal and provincial governments to live up to their legal and international obligations, to identify the source and cull it out,” said Neville Crabbe, a spokesman for the federation, in an interview with the Telegraph-Journal

The federation is also demanding “much stronger” surveillance of fish escapes, said Crabbe.

“We can’t slough this off. This is a big deal.”

Contacted about the report, Cooke Aquaculture directed the newspaper to the Atlantic Canada Fish Farmers Association. Inquiries made to Northern Harvest weren’t returned.

The head of the association is calling for a “full analysis” of the report’s findings.

“The report notes several uncertainties that raise questions about its conclusions – questions that can’t be resolved without a full analysis,” Susan Farquharson, the association’s executive director, wrote in an email.   

Farquharson said data provided to the association shows that only three farmed salmon have been found in the studied rivers since 1995.

“Our industry uses only Saint John River-strain fish and has been screening for European gene variants for 20 years. Escapes have been dramatically reduced since the early 1990s and have been estimated at well below one per cent in every year since 1995.”

The provincial government says salmon is the largest single food commodity in New Brunswick in terms of sales. In 2013, it was worth $117.3 million, according to the province.

Crabbe disputes Farquharson’s claims. He’s accusing the aquaculture industry of “persistent, sustained use” of foreign genes in brood stock. 

Asked what industry could do to alleviate his skepticism, Crabbe said he would need government to have vigorous oversight of brood stock genetic information. 

Farquharson said that government can do so if it wishes. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans, she said, has the authority to check farmed fish genetics any time.

Although the reported genetic shift isn’t a conclusive cause of inner Bay of Fundy decline, according to the study, Crabbe said even minimal impact could impair recovery efforts. And even if it has no impact, Crabbe said introduction of foreign genetics shouldn’t be permitted.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans says New Brunswick rivers once welcomed tens of thousands of adult inner Bay of Fundy salmon. In the late 1980s, the population began shrinking, down to an estimated 250 adults returning to about 50 rivers in 1999.

In response, government took some of the wild fish and created a live gene bank. Kept and bred in captivity, the unique species was preserved, now across three generations, and used in efforts to restore the rivers.

But the department says, “(T)here is little evidence of progress towards the re-establishment of self-sustaining populations.”

"We can’t slough this off. This is a big deal."