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More Farmed Salmon Escape

CANADA - Another escape of farmed Atlantic salmon near Grand Manan Island illustrates that, even with the best of intentions and modern equipment, breaches in containment at fish farms still occur, states Bill Taylor, President of the Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF).

The 138,000 juvenile farmed Atlantic salmon, estimated to be about 25 cm in length, escaped from an aquaculture pen operation near White Head Island, located east of Grand Manan Island at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy. Although they are small, these juvenile salmon, are capable of surviving in the ocean. It is believed that the high winds and ocean swells between December 20 and 26 ripped open the newly installed net cages.

"Storm events can cause problems with any coastal infrastructure and damage to salmon sea cages is no surprise," says Mr Taylor. "Anyone who works in ocean conditions understands that there are weather related hazards."

"Recapture efforts must be implemented to reduce the impacts of escaped farm salmon on populations of wild Atlantic salmon which are at critically low levels throughout the Bay of Fundy and nearby Gulf of Maine," adds Mr Taylor. "The best solution to the problem of escapes, however, would be to locate salmon farms on land. It would also eliminate the spread of sea lice and disease to wild salmon."

Approximately 38,000 of the escaped fish were from a hatchery in the upper Saint John River, while 100,000 were from a hatchery on Grand Manan Island. Although the fish are small now, ASF and other conservation organizations are concerned that over the next two years some of them could survive to maturity and enter rivers on both the Nova Scotia and New Brunswick sides of the Bay of Fundy. A major threat is that farmed fish will interbreed with wild salmon, producing weaker genetic strains of fish that are less likely to survive in the natural environment.

Other recent escapes of farmed salmon in the area included 33,000 from an operation near Castalia, Grand Manan at the end of November 2010, and 13,000 from a farm in Western Passage off Deer Island in October.

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) recently recommended that the entire Bay of Fundy and southern coast of Nova Scotia's wild salmon stocks be designated endangered under the Federal Species at Risk Act. "Aquaculture was identified by COSEWIC as posing a threat to wild Atlantic salmon stocks," says Mr Taylor. "The Atlantic Salmon Federation is urging the federal government to use the precautionary approach and not approve any new cage site operations in the Bay of Fundy or Southern Nova Scotia until wild stocks of Atlantic salmon have been restored."

ASF is pleased that the industry is demonstrating more transparency by reporting these most recent escapes. Knowing when, where, and how many fish escape helps fisheries managers address this serious problem.

the Fish Site Editor

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