Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The truth is what we choose to believe. Are escaped Atlantic salmon really a threat to the wild salmon in Fundy?

Well,  here is another business tragedy being turned into a gloom and doom story as the Atlantic Salmon Federation and others keep beating the drum that mixing stocks will damage the wild runs of salmon. I've been in the business since the inception of salmon farming in Fundy. In fact, the very first experimental farm was located at my facility in Deer Island and I started the first commercial operations there and at Eastport. Before that I carried out research along the coast of Fundy for over 20 years and what I saw suggests they are missing (or worse ignoring) the real causes. 

In the beginning,  ASF was all for aquaculture as a way to "save" the Atlantic salmon on the east coast. In fact they provided the very first smolts that went into the experimental cages at Deer Island. The concern then was they were "inferior" fighters on a rod and reel and they didn't "taste right". The first myth was dispelled when Wilf Carter was invited to angle in one of our cages. The myth of a "poor fighter" went down the drain that day. As for the flavour, we did some "blind" tests using Newfoundland salmon. I'll leave it to you to guess the results. Like the current situation, the truth is what we choose to believe.

I have yet to see convincing evidence that interbreeding between aquaculture and "wild" fish produces any detrimental results. I have read the report which is the foundation of this belief and, frankly, it is more opinion than science. One wonders if the researchers are pushing this current position because it produces research monies. 

Back in the sixties and seventies it was clear cutting in the inner Bay of Fundy that was destroying salmon spawning areas, industrial pollution,  budworm spray and agricultural chemicals that were the concern. This was followed by increasing pollution from shoreside domestic treatment facilities as well as major new types of concern such as elevated salinity from the brine line serving the potash mines in Sussex.

Now the aquaculture business is not "without sin". But it is not the source of all the woes of those that push half truths on behalf of the salmon anglers. They would be well advised to count the loss of salmon by aquaculture sites as a blessing for the angler. Perhaps some "hybrid vigour" is just what these long-since mixed-breed, so-called, "wild" salmon need?

My thoughts this morning

Thousands of farmed salmon escape from cages Published Tuesday January 11th, 2011 

Derwin Gowan

ST. ANDREWS - Nets torn during heavy winds around Christmas allowed 138,000 small farmed salmon to escape from two floating sea cages off Grand Manan.

These escapees threaten wild Atlantic salmon with parasites and disease and by mixing genes with the native fish, Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) president Bill Taylor said in an interview.

The wind prevented Admiral Fish Farms Ltd. from recapturing any of the escaped fish, company president Glen Brown said in a written statement.

However these fish, each less than 200 grams (seven ounces), would not likely survive in the wild, he said in the statement.

Taylor did not seem so sure that all of these 25-centimetre salmon, between the smolt state and adult stage, would die before causing trouble for the wild fish.

"When they do become sexually mature next fall, they will by instinct begin to search out rivers and run up rivers to spawn, and when they do that they will be spawning with wild salmon," Taylor said. "The progeny of hybrid aquaculture-wild salmon, they're survival is greatly reduced."

"The breach occurred on two new cages located south of Pumpkin Island, Grand Manan, when a vertical rope and chain came in contact with nets for an extended period of time during high winds," Admiral Fish Farms said in its statement.

Workers first noticed the breach Dec. 26 but high winds prevented them from confirming the loss till Dec. 30, the company stated.

To prevent future breaches the company does not intend to put fish back into this type of cage until design issues are resolved, according to the statement.

"Fish containment is a top priority with our company and we take any breaches very seriously," Brown said in the statement.

The company reported the escape as required by provincial regulation, Taylor acknowledged.

However, the ASF would move salmon farms to "closed containment" on land to prevent escapes as well as spread of sea lice and disease between the aquacultured and wild fish.

"Even with state of the art technology with the current sea pens and so on, even with the best of care and due diligence and the best of intentions, escapes still happen," Taylor said.

The Atlantic Canada Fish Farmers Association (ACFFA) disagrees.

A recent study led by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans examined 44 closed containment trials around the world including one in New Brunswick, association executive director Pamela Parker said in an email.

"All failed. To date, no closed system has successfully grown Atlantic salmon on a commercial scale. We're whole heartedly supportive of new ideas and improved technology, but at this point in time, closed containment farming is not the magic solution that some make it out to be," she said.

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) recently recommended that the federal government designate all Bay of Fundy and southern coast of Nova Scotia salmon stocks as endangered under the Species at Risk Act, the salmon federation's news release on the escape in December states.

"Aquaculture was identified by COSEWIC as posing a threat to wild Atlantic salmon stocks," Taylor said. The federation urges Ottawa not to approve any new cage sites in these regions until wild salmon are restored.

From its beginnings in the 1970s, salmon aquaculture has grown into a major supplier of steady jobs in Charlotte County.

Over the same period, the number of wild-run salmon returning to rivers draining into the Bay of Fundy has dropped disastrously. The people that Taylor and Parker represent disagree on how much of the blame the aquaculture industry should bear.

The ASF, headquartered in St. Andrews, is dedicated to conservation, protection and restoration of wild Atlantic salmon and the ecosystems on which they depend.

The Atlantic Canada Fish Farmers Association based in Letang, formerly the New Brunswick Salmon Growers Association, speaks for the salmon aquaculture industry.

Admiral Fish Farms, a member of the association, was established on Grand Manan in 1996. The award-winning company employs 80 people and markets its products under the esqu brand.

Image Credit and Copyright -  Art MacKay
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