Salmon containment standards not being enforced

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This letter is a response to Miranda Pryor, “Clearing the water on salmon escapes,” published in The Telegram on June 17.

It is ironic that Pryor thinks Newfoundland and Labrador has been recognized by the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO) for the province’s code of containment.

The Atlantic Salmon Federation and World Wildlife Fund actually recognized NL in our 2005 assessment that was based on NASCO criteria and gauged the impacts that aquaculture policies in several North Atlantic countries were having on wild Atlantic salmon. We acknowledged that NL had standards for containment, as well as for site management, contingency plans and notification of escapes in place.

However, these standards are not being enforced. The Newfoundland auditor general (AG) has reported that inspections are not being conducted to the degree required. Even when inspections are done and violations detected, often there is no action taken to correct the identified problems. The AG’s most recent update on this states that corrective actions have still not been taken.   

With respect to recapture methodologies, the truth is that when aquaculture fish escape, there are no effective means of recapturing them because the fish go deep and then disperse quickly.

To quote Geoff Perry, DFO’s director of aquaculture, when he spoke at the Salmonid Advisory meetings in Gander last fall, “any suggestion that escaped aquaculture fish can be recaptured is pure optics.”  

If, as Pryor says, the industry’s containment systems are “built to withstand the challenging North Atlantic weather conditions, and our farmers are vigilant at regularly inspecting and maintaining the integrity of their farms,” how does she explain the reported escapes of more than 800,000 farmed salmonids since the industry began? Fisheries Minister Keith Hutchings recently reported that 28,000 farmed salmon a year escape.

These escapees could have a large impact on the 22,000 wild salmon left on the entire south coast of Newfoundland.  

Pryor says that “escapes have dramatically reduced since the early 1990s, and over the last 10 years have represented less than one per cent of the total number of salmon in the water at any one time.”

Well, that is a frightening figure considering that there are 15 million farmed fish in the water at any one time. That’s 150,000 escapes annually, and industry wants to double their operations in the next five years.

Pryor cavalierly dismisses interbreeding with a wild population as having little impact, because, she writes, only small amounts of new genetic material is being added, and natural selection continues to play a role.

She doesn’t provide any scientific references for this but we do have plenty of scientific references that say just the opposite.

One is research on interactions between wild and farmed salmon on the Magaguadavic River in N.B., where farmed salmon escapees have outnumbered wild salmon for many years and now the wild run is pretty well gone. To find out more, visit: http://asf.ca/aquaculture-in-need-of-change.html.

Pryor conveniently leaves out fish farming in her list of threats to wild Atlantic salmon.

DFO says the biggest threats affecting wild salmon populations are occurring in the ocean. One of those threats is aquaculture.

Here’s DFO’s input into the discussions on declaring south coast salmon threatened: “There have been many reviews and studies showing that the presence of farmed salmon results in reduced survival and fitness of wild Atlantic salmon, through competition, interbreeding and disease.’’ (Source:  www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/csas-sccs/Publications/SAR-AS/2012/2012_007-eng.pdf.)

Pryor writes that “according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, over the past 30+ years of monitoring the rivers along the south coast, very few farmed salmon have ever been found in a river (as reported during DFO’s annual regional advisory process).”

What she failed to mention is that when DFO was questioned about this statement at that same meeting, the department also confirmed that the 30 plus years of monitoring referred to was simply counting wild salmon in counting fences, not sampling and monitoring to look for aquaculture fish.

On the Conne River, the one river during that time where the presence of aquaculture fish was monitored for one or two years, the presence of farmed fish was confirmed.

In the past year and a half alone, based on public complaints, DFO has confirmed the presence of farmed fish in 10 rivers on the south coast, and confirmed that some of these farmed fish were sexually mature. As Pryor very well knows, there has never been an ongoing research monitoring program in place for examining for such interactions, nor is there any such monitoring program in place currently.

Pryor refers to a publication of the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organization that claimed that there is no difference between the pattern of decline in Scotland’s west coast and east coast salmon catches and thus salmon farming has had no effect on wild salmon catches.

This fallacy was countered by a comprehensive analysis of official catch statistics by the River and Fisheries Trusts of Scotland. The analysis concluded that there is a clear trend of declining salmon catches, compared with catches on the east coast, in areas where the Scottish aquaculture industry operates. More to the point, let’s look at the state of wild salmon stocks in the location of fish farms in Eastern Canada.

These wild salmon are either already listed as endangered or have been designated by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada as threatened or endangered.   In 2008, Dalhousie University researchers Jennifer Ford and Ransom Myers confirmed that, globally, there is a much steeper decline in numbers of wild salmon living in rivers adjacent to the salmon farming industry, for some populations by as much as 50 per cent.  

Finally, I question Pryor’s labelling of open pen farmed salmon as “healthy.”

Personally, I prefer to eat salmon raised in a sustainable manner, without pesticides to treat sea lice and antibiotics to treat disease, and with no impact on adjacent wild fish or the environment.

That is the promise of closed-containment operations, and I will wait until this industry fills the market to satisfy consumers like me, before I eat farmed salmon raised in open pen marine cages.  

Don Ivany,

Director, Newfoundland

and Labrador programs

Atlantic Salmon Federation

Organizations: Department of Fisheries and Oceans, NASCO, Atlantic Salmon Federation World Wildlife Fund SAR-AS Scottish Salmon Producers Fisheries Trusts of Scotland Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife Dalhousie University

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Gander, North Atlantic Magaguadavic River Eastern Canada Conne River Scotland

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Recent comments

  • Terran
    June 26, 2014 - 22:06

    ASF keep referring to the interaction of farmed fish on the wild stock when they produced a report that the Irving owned and operated hydro generating plant was decimating the wild runs. Irving by the way is a big donor to ASF so this information is kept from the general public. The report had a minimum 50% kill rated for salmon and 100% for eels through the dam. ASF released millions of hybrid salmon into the bay of Fundy. These fish were actually released by ASF staff they didn't have to escape!

  • MONEY TALKS FISH DON'T WIN here, or in Vegas!
    June 23, 2014 - 10:18

    Someone research the early cod hatchery efforts, and follow the money on this. The deskset-fishermen are dressed in finery now. Croakers dream?

  • Charles Murphy
    June 23, 2014 - 09:36

    I guess I'm going to run for the " Premier " to get this mess under control, Before the health of the people, and our wild stock is " Ruin ".

  • South Coaster
    June 21, 2014 - 10:07

    Mr. Ivany you are right and we here on the coast know that. It is amazing how a few like Miranda Prior just cannot accept the facts. With regards to the containment, the industry shot themselves in the foot on this aspect of this industry when they stopped anchoring the cages to the bottom by drilling in to the bed rock to hold the cages. They now use concrete blocks and this has been proven to fail many times here on the south coast but it is cheaper and a win win for the company when they get escapes. I will give two examples: 1.Several years ago a barge load of feed was tied up to five cages in Hermitage Bay. Fishermen and locals warned the workers that this would be a disaster waiting to happen a the anchors used would not hold. I was one of the many people who stated this. The wind increased the very next day and yes the barge lifted the cages and anchors due to the wave action and most of the 350,000 adult fish were lost. I was there in the area as well as other people and also employees at the site witnessed this. After that for a number of years boaters and fisher people had to contend with broken cages as there were pieces all over the bay. Several boats and motors were damaged as a result of striking this debris. Cooke's did pay for some of the damaged engines. One of the boats that was damaged as a result of this was a DFO enforcement boat. DFO took care of the damage themselves. Some of the debris left out in Hermitage Bay was sunk by employees to save the cost of getting it lifted from the bottom. People witnessed this and yes again the employees talked about this and were concerned for their family and friends who were also using the bay for 500 years as it was negatively affecting the wild healthy fishery and the relatives and friends who were upset over this..I could go on with regards to this escape of over 200,000 salmon but this will give you the message as to what we are dealing with. 2. Last year one of the boats involved in the fishery tied to cages in the same area and attempted to tow a cage full of fish to another location and the workers neglected to let go the moorings from the inside anchor. The boat operator went ahead and hauled the cage causing the cage to draw down under water and the fish started to leave the cage. By the time the workers could get the operator to understand what happened many fish had escaped. When the engine power was cut by the operatorthe pressure was taken off and the boat went back on top of the cages and tore them apart. The pieces of the cages then drifted off in deep water with the boat attached. I have pictures of the broken cages out in the bay and I can tell you that the numbers reported lost was 20-25 thousand to DFO, but the workers reported to the company that more than 50 - 70 thousand adult fish were lost. I can tell you myself that all of the fish got out of the broken cages and the numbers were as the workers stated, not what the managers quoted to DFO. Before the workers even informed the company the supervisor had leaked the numbers of over 50 -70 thousand escapes to the public who were there in the area, and yes I was one of them. Now this is just two cases where cages anchored to the bottom would have prevented 250-350 thousand adult salmon escapes. Now the workers claim the unreported escapes were claimed as ISA infected fish. When cages are beaten to pieces and are strewn all over the bay, why is it that Miranda Prior can't see that the fish are not going to sit around and wait for the workers to help them aboard the boat? What foolishness. Prior is like a fish out of water when she tries to tell experienced fisher people and boaters here on the coast that they are wrong about the escapes and how the cages should be anchored. This in itself shows that Prior has no respect for us and she is really becoming a joke when we hear her speak and read what she writes. We are also very concern for her negligence. We are not the fools and liars that she make us out to be and she should show more respect for us who are so negatively affected by this industry but yet are more than willing to help her along to learn the trade. The problem she would have with this is that she would have to be honest and that is not really a bad thing if she could just get her head around it. If she don't and continue on the path that she is trying to lead us she will disappear just as fast as her biggest ali (Tracey Perry)to this industry come the next provincial election. It really is never to late to start being honest.

  • fish lips
    June 21, 2014 - 09:27

    Ivany said -"...how does she explain the reported escapes of more than 800,000 farmed salmonids since the industry began? " she explains this number by stating that it is false. can you provide a verifiable source of this number?

    • Sick of the Shills
      June 23, 2014 - 09:03

      Seeing Pryor represents the industry that complies and reports the numbers without outside audit and it is in the industry's best interest to minimize reported escapes to avoid scrutiny,. I'd say the reporting by the fox watching the hen house are suspect at best. Regulators are giving them a free pass to dream up whatever numbers they please.

  • Paul
    June 21, 2014 - 09:23

    Don Ivany said- "Personally, I prefer to eat salmon raised in a sustainable manner, without pesticides to treat sea lice and antibiotics to treat disease, and with no impact on adjacent wild fish or the environment." this is his plug for land based farming ,which ASF funds and promotes. Meanwhile, the statement if fraught with mythology and disinformation. salmon farming, like all human activities has an impact on the environment, even land based aquaculture has an impact, heck, even angling and fishing lodges have an impact. however its not the nightmare presented to us by the Anti-salmon farming lobby. read this... http://www.seafoodsource.com/en/news/aquaculture/25232-noaa-coastal-aquaculture-environmentally-safe and one more thing about land based salmon farming that ASF promotes...it is at present not commercially feasible, although there are a number of Research and Development projects and market tests ongoing. the end product it seems, will be more expensive than farmed salmon you can buy now, and it tastes different...some say 'buttery' some say 'muddy'...but the key thing that they neglect to say, when telling people in Atlantic Canada why salmon farming should move to the land, is that when (if) it comes out of the coastal waters it will keep going to someplace close to markets and transportation routes. the only reason there is a salmon farming industry here now is because they need the coastal sea cage sites to the point they can accept the transprotation costs. tanks can go alot of other places. so in summary, when ASF and friends tell us that the only way for salmon farming to go on without destroying the environment is to move it to land based farming...remember this- land based is yet to be proven commercially viable, ASF funds its development, and were it to take off, it won't be in Newfoundland. the doomsday scenario promoted by ASF et al, in my opinion while not only false, but also takes away from any sensible discussion on what issues there might be that can be addressed and improved in the industry and governments.

  • Paul
    June 21, 2014 - 09:01

    what I find most memorable about Ivany's letter is that he makes many statements of fact with no references, then directs the reader to an ASF site for 'more information'...and finally quotes DFO damning salmon farming and provides a link that does not work. at best the latter is just a cherry picked snippet of information taken out of context. The other thing I find noteworthy is that ASF and their 'people' always come to this, promoting land based salmon farming as the only alternative to the current sea cage system...meanwhile they are funding land based systems development , and they are promoting land based systems...while attacking the current system. I find that disingenuous and in my view, speaks to their motivations for attacking salmon farming.

    • Sick of the Shills
      June 23, 2014 - 08:57

      The reason ASF and other conservation minded entities are funding land based farming is because industry and government are not. Those groups will not reap any profit from their investment other than the protection of wild fish.. The link is correct, the hyperlink adds the .) at the end of the sentence Seeing you're concerned about fact supporting references, what is the source of the Aquaculture Association's escape data? Who verifies it as accurate? Who inventories and reconciles the fish in, fish out, deaths and escapees? I'll answer that for you - it's the industry. Pryor claims the numbers have been audited by DFO. 'numbers' being a carefully selected word - as those numbers are compiled and reported by the industry. And before you pull out the old chestnut that losing fish costs industry money, it costs them more to ensure 100% containment, it's called diminishing return on investment. The direct cost of a lost fish vs. a dead fish are the same on the balance sheet, but the headaches associated with the indirect cost of losing fish are much higher - to the public that owns the wild resource. The industry, well they couldn't care less, their profit line remains the same.

    • Paul
      June 23, 2014 - 09:31

      shill of shills, I know that DFO does invest in land based, they have provided funding for the Namgis project, I believe. as for reporting numbers, is there a better way? how do anglers report their catch and sizes? I have no concerns with changing bad practice or illegal practice. but they are not the industry norm any more than in any industry.

    • Paul
      June 23, 2014 - 13:32

      funding the very technology you promote as the only way forward is disingenuous.