Two years ago, we reported on devastating escapes of farmed salmon from Norwegian and Canadian facilities (see "Atlantic Salmon Escape, May Interbreed with Wild Fish” and "Salmon Escape Norwegian Farm in Staggering Numbers”).
Worse yet, in what the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries called a "…grave environmental threat to Norway’s wild stocks…,” the agency reports that 2006 set a record for escaped salmon, with almost 800,000 salmon and trout slipping out of the small Scandinavian nation’s huge fish farms.
This 10 percent increase in escapes over 2005 was blamed in part on large storms that allowed farmed fish to leap over the tops of their pens.
Last week, IntraFish Media quoted Maren Esmark, head of the marine program for World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Norway making this sober assessment:
"Without much more severe punishments for offending fish farmers, the problem is likely to get even worse as the size of the Norwegian aquaculture industry continues to expand.
"Right now, the punishments being handed down don’t faze the [fish farmers] at all. If the Norwegian government really wants to take this problem seriously, and devote the resources necessary to confront it, they could have a serious impact” (Stromsta K 2007).
Fish auction website Mercapesca.net quoted Peter Gullestad, chief of the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries, as calling the procedural failures at fish farms "…a criminal act that must be sanctioned the same as a hold-up or a rape” (Mercapesca.net 2007).
Scottish group tries shaming farms
According to a story in Fish Farmer magazine earlier this month, the Salmon Farm Protest Group (SFPG) of Scotland revealed the names of fish farmers that lost 821,000 farmed salmon to escapes during 2005 (Fish Farmer 2007).
Figures released by the Scottish Executive show that 1.6 million salmon have escaped from fish farms since 2000.
Recent research results shows that the progeny of farmed and wild salmon suffer catastrophically low survival rates: an effect scientists term an "extinction vortex” that could eliminate wild salmon stocks that over millennia have adapted to particular rivers and rough North Sea waters.
A ruling from the Scottish Freedom of Information Commission, requested by the US-based Pure Salmon campaign (www.puresalmon.org), forced the Scottish Fisheries Research Services (FRS) to disclose the name of a fish farmer involved in an escape incident in 2006.
Subsequently, the SFPG asked the agency for the names of fish farmers involved in all escapes and fish deaths during 2005.
According to the protest group, records reveal that the worst offender was a Norwegian-owned firm that lost 321,000 farmed salmon from sea cages in Scottish waters.
Another 289,000 fish were lost at two farms when the cages broke up due to severe weather conditions seemingly quite predictable in the violent North Sea.
Last August, website telegraph.co.uk quoted Pure Salmon campaign leader Don Staniford as saying, "Farming salmon in sea cages is an open invitation to mass escapes. Salmon farmers term escapes ‘Acts of God’ but placing farms in remote locations where the weather is known to be stormy makes escapes seem more a man-made than a natural disaster.”
And Fish Farmer magazine quoted SFPG chairman Bruce Sandison as saying, "Farm salmon escapes seriously damage the genetic integrity of our wild fish stocks. The public will also be able judge for themselves the true value of the Scottish Salmon Producers (SSPO) voluntary ‘Code of Good Practice...'”
Sustainable fish-farming is possible
Fish farming may be one answer to the gap between seafood supply and demand, but it must take place under fully safe, sustainable circumstances—such as closed containers sited on shore—or we could lose salmon and certain other exceptionally valuable wild fish forever.
Intrafish Media quoted Andrew Kavanaugh, director of the US-based National Environmental Trust (NET) as saying, "It would be expensive, but we’ve done different cost analyses, and if you move the big farms closer to city centers, where people are actually eating, then you can save on transportation costs and it becomes financially doable.”
The Trust runs the Pure Salmon campaign (www.puresalmon.org), which advocates for sustainable fishing and fish farming. According to a press release that NET sent out last May, shareholders of the world’s third-biggest farmed salmon producer (Cermaq) directed its board to review a resolution from the Trust that proposes closed-pen solutions to salmon farming.
For more on this topic, see "Closed Containment: The Best Solution.”
- National Environmental Trust. Cermaq Board Agrees to Review Pure Salmon Reform Plan. May 3, 2006. Accessed online January 13, 2007 at http://www.net.org /proactive/newsroom/release.vtml?id=29095
- Mercapesca.net. Wild salmon threatened by mass escape from Norwegian fish farms. Accessed online January 13, 2007 at http://www.mercapesca.net/index.php? IDIOMA= ENG&MPRIN=MER&MSEC=MER.NOT&PLANA=2&ACCIO=2014
- Stromsta K. Record year for Norwegian fish farm escapes. IntraFish Media AS. Accessed online January 13, 2007 at http://www.intrafish.no /global/news/article124865.ece.
- Fish Farmer. Protest group "names and shames” salmon farmers. Accessed online January 13, 2007 at http://www.fishfarmer-magazine.com/news/fullstory.php /aid/829/Protest_group_%93names_and_shames% 94_salmon_farmers.html
- Clover C. Wild salmon put at risk as a million farmed fish escape. telegraph.co.uk 29/08/2006. Accessed online January 13, 2007 at http://www.telegraph.co. uk/news/main.jhtml?xml= /news/2006/08/29/nfish29.xml.