<em>Only</em> 180,000 escaped fish?

Published on June 10, 2014

I’m writing in response to the recent letter by Miranda Pryor of the Newfoundland Aquaculture Industry Association. Pryor challenged information about salmonid aquaculture escape numbers provided by the Atlantic Salmon Federation and, in response, claims that only 180,000 fish have escaped from Newfoundland aquaculture facilities over the past 10 years.

Putting aside doubts about the accuracy of information provided by the industry, one still has to ask: only 180,000 fish?

Are we supposed to believe that the release of an average of 18,000 artificially-raised domesticated animals into the environment every year is not a problem?

If a chicken farm or a pig farm (or any other type of farm) released 18,000 animals into the wild every year, we’d hardly consider it to be a sustainable environmentally friendly industry.

No, in fact we’d consider it to be an environmental disaster and some hard questions would be asked.

But for some reason, when it comes to aquaculture, we’re supposed to accept such on-going escapes as a normal part of doing business and give the industry a big pat on the back for releasing only 180,000 animals over the past 10 years.

Make no mistake, the number of escapes claimed by the industry is more than enough to have a significant ongoing impact on wild trout and salmon stocks.

DFO estimates that the number of wild adult salmon returning to rivers along the entire south coast of Newfoundland has declined to about 22,000.

That gives us, on average, almost one escaped fish for every wild salmon every year for the past 10 years.

Given those numbers, it doesn’t matter that escapes represent only a small percentage of the total number of aquaculture fish in the water.

Pryor invites the media to contact her with questions about the industry.

I suggest the media take her up on that offer, and I’d like to suggest a few questions: how, exactly, does the industry monitor and report escapes, and why should we trust the numbers that they report? What happened to those 180,000 fish? Where did they go and what interactions did they have with wild salmon and trout? What efforts did the industry make to recover them?

Were any of those fish infected with infectious salmon anemia or other diseases that could have been spread to wild fish? What has the industry done to understand and mitigate the impacts of those escapes on wild salmon and trout populations, and on the environment in general?

And why should this industry be considered sustainable and supported by the people of the province when it apparently considers the regular release of such large numbers of animals to be a normal part of doing business?


Dr. Stephen Sutton

Centre for Sustainable Tropical Fisheries

and Aquaculture,

James Cook University, Australia

(currently writing from Mount Pearl)