Norway faults fish farms for 1.2 million escapes

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
19 April 2007, at 1:00am

OSLO - Norway faulted about 50 fish farming companies on Wednesday for escapes by 1.2 million salmon, cod and trout last year in a new bid to put pressure on firms to tighten their nets.

Environmentalists, who say that escaped farmed fish threaten wild stocks because of inter-breeding, welcomed the detailed list of breakouts from farms in the Nordic nation, the world's biggest producer of farmed Atlantic salmon.

The list showed escapes from major companies such as Marine Harvest , the world's number one salmon farmer, Cermaq and dozens of smaller operators. Norway has previously published figures for escapes but without where they came from.

"Allowing fish to escape in itself is not illegal, but escapes can be a sign of irresponsible management," Jens Christian Holm, of the Directorate of Fisheries, said in a statement with the list showing 1.2 million fish escaped.

It was the highest number of fish escapes in statistics back to 2001 -- 935,000 fish escaped in 2005. And 169,000 fish escaped in the first three months of 2007, according to the Directorate.

Holm said the figures had to be treated with caution because they do not indicate the reason for breakouts. The number of escapees is a tiny percentage of the total produced.

Fish firms say that the data do not distinguish between nets that are ripped because of mismanagement or, for instance, sabotage or accidents beyond the control of operators such as rips caused by boat propellers.

"Our goal is to have no escapes," said Marit Solberg, managing director of Marine Harvest's Norwegian unit. The company accounted for 10 of 60 breakouts in Norway in 2006, although the number of fish that slipped the company's nets was just 80,000.

She said the worst escape was caused by a floating telephone pole ripping a net while another was linked to damage from a storm in January 2006.

"Given the recent flood of escapes in Norway, it looks like the Norwegian government has a long way to go to meet their goal of 'zero escapes'," said Don Staniford, of the Pure Salmon campaign.

He said that there were also problems with escaped fish in other major fish farming nations such as Britain, Chile, the United States and Canada.