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Letter: Committee identifies open-net aquaculture as risky

The viability and recovery of depleted wild Atlantic salmon populations can be negatively affected by open net-pen salmonid aquaculture in coastal marine areas.

The threats to wild Atlantic salmon populations include interbreeding between wild salmon and farmed escapees and the potential exchange of pathogens and diseases.

The Fisheries and Oceans standing committee on Atlantic salmon heard evidence that, based on scientific studies, there is a much steeper decline in wild salmon populations in rivers close to salmon farms.

Jonathan Carr, executive director of research with the Atlantic Salmon Federation, gave the example of the Magaguadavic River in southwestern New Brunswick, where unreported escapees from salmon farms have bred with wild salmon and “destroyed” the wild population.

The committee was told by Fred Parsons, general manager of the Environment Resources Management Association about a DFO study confirming extensive interbreeding between farmed and wild salmon in 17 out of the 18 rivers in southern Newfoundland.

Bill Taylor of the Atlantic Salmon Federation added that DFO’s recovery potential assessments for endangered and threatened wild salmon populations in the inner Bay of Fundy, along the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia and on the south coast of Newfoundland, identified open net-pen salmon aquaculture as a “high-level” threat.

Taylor advocated for a moratorium on the expansion of open net-pen salmon aquaculture and moving the salmon aquaculture industry to land-based closed containment as one alternative. He also called for the standardization of regulations regarding containment, disease treatment and pollution control.

The Norwegian model and the Aquaculture Stewardship Council certification were mentioned as inspiration sources for best practices in the aquaculture industry.

In Miramichi, the committee heard recommendations that would enhance the open net-pen salmon aquaculture industry’s transparency: better reporting mechanisms related to escapes and diseases and parasites levels, external markers on farmed fish allowing the identification of escapees, and a pan-Atlantic approach to regulations and farm management practices.

Stricter regulations for open net-pen salmon aquaculture were also called for by Susanna Fuller, marine conservation co-ordinator for the Ecology Action Centre. She indicated that 70 per cent of Atlantic salmon in the Magaguadavic River in New Brunswick are escapees, while in the State of Maine, which has much stricter regulations through its containment protocol, only 0.2 per cent of its river salmon originate from those farms.

Fuller mentioned that, “Atlantic Canadian farms use 204 times and 241 times, respectively, more antibiotics than comparable farms in Norway and Scotland, and six times more than farms in B.C.”

Therefore, witnesses such as the Atlantic Salmon Federation and the Eel Ground First Nation support a transition towards land-based closed containment aquaculture.

Bill Bryden

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