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Salmon Escape ill-timed as Data Published on Global Incidents

by Ellen Hardy
04 December 2007, at 12:00am

UK - International Fish-farming conglomerate Marine Harvest has lost 24,000 salmon in an escape from its operation at Loch Ewe, in Wester Ross, Scotland. The escape coincides with the release of an international inventory, which charts the scale of the problem worldwide, writes Jane Jordan, FishSite Editor.

The company said the fish escaped last week, just prior to being harvested. It is thought a section of the weighting system used to secure the farm's nets and platforms came into contact with netting, causing a tear. However, the exact cause of the loss has yet to be determined and a full investigation is being carried out by senior management.

Marine Harvest has assured local fishery interests, the riparian owner and the Scottish Government that procedures have been followed and attempts have been made to recover fish from the mouth of the River Ewe.

Massive global problem
The news of this escape comes as fresh data on the global magnitude of salmon escapes from fish farms is released.

The research, conducted by the Pure Salmon Campaign, was made public at an aquaculture symposium hosted by the US Department of Agriculture's National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). It contains an inventory of reported escapes from open net cage salmon farms and is the first international study of its kind.

"This inventory of escapes shows us that despite progressive policies, there is simply no way to prevent escapes from open net cages," said Rachel Hopkins, of the Pure Salmon Campaign and report author. "These fugitive fish pose a major threat to the local marine ecosystem."

Key findings from the data show that:
  • Between 2000 and 2006, at least 10.2 million farmed salmon and trout escaped from open net cages.
  • Many major farmed salmon producing countries - such as Norway and Scotland - continue to report annual escapes in the thousands to millions, despite regulations aimed at controlling and eliminating escapes.
  • Farmed salmon escapes have occurred within and surrounding marine protected areas, where wild salmon and other species are theoretically protected by national and international laws.
  • Escapes present risks of increasing disease outbreaks, proliferating possible disease transmission routes in the environment and decreasing the immunity of wild fish to disease. Scientific research has linked open net cage salmon farms with sea lice infestations in native, wild salmon populations.
Campaigners that the escape of millions of salmon from net cages every year has altered marine environments, coastal rivers and associated food chains around the world. They are calling for the US to prohibit fish raised in open net cages from carrying the organic label. The lack of publicly available, official data on escapes from these systems has hindered a comprehensive understanding of the rate of escapes globally. However, through Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests in Scotland, Norway, Chile, the US and Australia, the Pure Salmon Campaign has been able to access and compile previously confidential data on escapes from fish farms in those regions.

"Until we have proof that open net cage fish farms do not harm the ocean environment or the life within it, farmed fish including salmon should not be allowed to carry the coveted USDA organic label," said Andrea Kavanagh, director, Pure Salmon Campaign.

The organisation says that data presented within its latest paper is at best a conservative estimate of farmed salmon escapes occuring throughout the world.

Ellen Hardy