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.
and Labrador programs
Atlantic Salmon Federation