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Campaigners Call for Contained Salmon Farms

CANADA - The Living Oceans Society has renewed its call for a move from open net cage salmon farms into closed containment after the 1 July escape of up to 30,000 Atlantic salmon from a Marine Harvest Canada fish farm in Frederick Arm.

The near-harvest sized fish escaped when one of the anchors holding the pens in place apparently slipped into deeper water causing the corner of the net cage to sink for an undetermined time.

The salmon farming company is currently attempting to recapture some of the escaped fish but acknowledge success will be limited.

DFO’s Atlantic Salmon Watch Program reported over 1.4 million Atlantic salmon escaped into B.C. waters between 1987 and 2002.

B.C.’s Ministry of Agriculture and Lands (MAL) most recent statistics reported 64 escaped fish in 2005 and 19,000 in 2006.

The numbers of escaped fish voluntarily reported by aquaculture companies in B.C. are surprisingly low. Three Norwegian corporations own 92 percent of all farms in the province and these same companies, using the same technology, record far higher levels of escaped fish in their Norwegian operations.

Escaped farm salmon have already been found in more than 80 B.C. river systems and populations of feral juvenile Atlantic salmon have been discovered at three locations in B.C.

"The B.C. government can’t continue to put our wild salmon and marine ecosystem at risk by pretending that they are addressing the problems of open net cage salmon farming with tighter regulations," said Catherine Stewart, Living Oceans Society’s Salmon Farming Campaign Manager.

"This latest escape is another example of the need for a better system for farming salmon and not another band-aid. We believe that closed containment systems can be that better mousetrap and we are calling on Minister Hagen and the provincial government to lead the way."

Living Oceans Society and its allies in the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform (CAAR) are currently working with Marine Harvest Canada to develop an assessment tool that includes both environmental and economic considerations of a commercial scale closed containment pilot.

"We have already convinced Marine Harvest to join us in asking the B.C. government to make a financial commitment to closed containment trials," Ms Stewart said.

"We are eagerly awaiting a response from Victoria."

Living Oceans Society and CAAR say they continue to urge the provincial government to introduce a closed containment innovation and development fund of $10 million that will support a "made in B.C." solution to the problems with open net cage salmon farming.

Those problems include not just farmed salmon escapes, but also disease and pathogen transfer between wild and farmed fish populations, sea lice infestations of wild migrating juvenile salmon and untreated wastes from open net cage farms that are currently discharged directly into the marine environment.

Ellen Hardy

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