Almost 30,000 farmed salmon escape north of Vancouver, Canada; farmed escapees are expected to compete for food with wild salmon, and may eat their young
by Craig Weatherby
Sea lice from poorly sited Salmon farms in British Columbia (BC) could extinguish Pink Salmon from western Canada, according to highly credible research.
For more on that critical threat—which American Salmon consumers could help resolve—see “A Bold Plan to Save Canada's Wild Salmon.”
(The Alaskan fisheries that supply all of our frozen wild Salmon are safe and abundant, as explained on our Sustainability page.)
In Norway and Scotland, escaped Atlantic Salmon interbreed with the few remaining wild Atlantic Salmon... an existential threat we reported in “Record Salmon Escapes Threaten ‘Extinction Vortex.’”
Canadian escapees possess threatening appetites
The 29,000-plus farmed Atlantic Salmon that escaped from offshore net pens in western Canada last week cannot interbreed with wild Pacific Salmon.
But farmed Atlantic Salmon are bred to be voracious feeders, so they will compete with wild Sockeye, King, Pink, Silver, and Keta Salmon for food, and may well eat their young.
For an overview of the worldwide problem of farmed Salmon escapes, see “Record Salmon Escapes Threaten ‘Extinction Vortex.’”
The solution—solid-walled “containment” pens located safely onshore—is widely used for catfish and certain other farm-raised species, but very rarely for Salmon.
The potential impact of continuous industrial Salmon escapes—that is, the essential extinction of wild Pacific Salmon by exposure to escaped Atlantic Salmon—is irreversible and totally unnecessary.
Based on the industry’s sorry history of large, ongoing Salmon farm escapes, the latest breakout was entirely predictable.
Farmed Salmon escape in Canada seen as no surprise
The latest Salmon farm fiasco happened about 125 miles northwest of Vancouver, Canada, smack in the middle of Canada’s priceless wild Salmon runs, and uncomfortably close to some of Alaska’s wild Salmon runs.
One corner of an underwater pen collapsed, opening an easy escape route for almost 30,000 industrially farmed Atlantic Salmon.
The huge Norwegian company involved—Marine Harvest, which dominates western Canada’s farmed Salmon industry— has only managed to recover a few hundred fish.
CBC News quoted Vancouver Island fishing guide Henry Spit: “Within hours of the release, Atlantics are biting the hooks. … A few have been angled so far. They've been caught, and they're 13- to 14-pound Atlantics. These predators identify Pacific smolts as feed. There's a huge danger of [them] being a massive threat to the local indigenous stocks" (CBC 2008).
The mass exodus on July 1 was Canada’s largest farmed-Salmon escape in eight years, and has spawned a government investigation.
The company stopped trying to recapture the escaped fish Friday afternoon, leaving more than 29,000 fish missing.
The incident has renewed calls by conservationists for an end to ocean fish farming in British Columbia.
The Atlantic Salmon Watch Program run by the Canadian Fisheries Department reported more than 1.4 million Atlantic Salmon escaped into British Columbia waters between 1987 and 2002, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands' most recent statistics reported 19,000 escaped fish in 2006.
As crusading biologist Alexandra Morton says, “Closed-containment, closed-containment, closed-containment. That solves everything.”
Onshore Salmon farms: Their higher cost reflects eco-reality
Onshore closed-containment pens come with limitations and costs that make them an unattractive option for huge, profit-driven industrial Salmon companies.
The huge Norwegian company responsible for the latest escape—Marine Harvest, which dominates western Canada’s farmed Salmon industry—has been working with environmental groups to persuade the BC government to fund a pilot project to investigate the viability of closed containment Salmon aquaculture pens.
Of course, we wonder why a profitable, billion-dollar concern like Marine Harvest shouldn’t be required to spend its own dollars to make a swift shift to onshore pens.
The following information about the prospects for onshore Salmon farms comes from The Pure Salmon Campaign.
Even though all farmed Salmon must be raised in tanks for the first 12-18 months of their life, the industry has resisted closed containment systems. The crux of the issue is cost.
A 1998 report by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency concluded: “Although land-based systems currently offer the greatest potential for containment and treatment of wastes following [chemical treatment for parasites and diseases], the systems are not viable for commercial salmon production under present economic conditions [emphasis added].”
A Canadian study in 2000 also concluded: “Closed systems have considerable potential for waste removal and treatment, and reduced escape and predation problems; however, these systems are complex and expensive to buy and operate.”
But a 2005 study suggested that closed containment technologies could be financially viable, if measured against the actual environmental costs of net pen Salmon farming.
- Associated Press (AP). Salmon escape from Canadian fish farm probed. July 4, 2008. Accessed online July 5, 2008 at http://news.aol.com/story/_a/salmon-escape-from-canadian-fish-farm/n20080704145409990021
- CBC News. 30,000 escaped farmed salmon raise concerns in B.C. Thursday, July 3, 2008. Accessed online July 5, 2008 at http://www.cbc.ca/canada/british-columbia/story/2008/07/03/bc-atlantic-salmon-escape.html
- Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform (CAAR). Stopping the Great Escapes, July 05, 2008. Accessed online July 5, 2008 at http://www.farmedanddangerous.org/page/about-carr