40,000 Atlantic Salmon Escape Canadian Fish Farm Into the Pacific

From disease to pollution, farm raised fish have drawn a multitude of criticisms from environmentalists who predict an “eco disaster” from such practices. Most often, fish farming is criticized for its overuse of antibiotics and how the drugs eventually end up in native marine environments. In addition, farm-raised fish often escape into native populations, as recently happened in British Columbia, Canada.

Closed containment systems needed at fish farms to prevent escapes.
Closed containment systems needed at fish farms to prevent escapes.

On Wednesday, October 21, 2009, 40,000 farm raised Atlantic salmon escaped a Port Elizabeth fish farm into the Pacific Ocean. The salmon escaped from two pens when dead fish were begin removed with a pump. Recapture vessels were not deployed until almost 24 hours after the breakout. Kwicksutaineuk-Ah-Kwaw-Ah-Mish Chief Bob Chamberlin explained, “The response time really troubles me. One of the only reasons we found out was because a commercial fishery was going on and they were catching Atlantics.”

Despite assurances Atlantic salmon cannot survive in Pacific waters, fisherman were catching them 40 kilometers from the fish farm, and they have been previously found in local waterways. The Times Colonist explains:

Will Soltau, salmon-farm campaign co-ordinator for Living Oceans Society, said despite initial assurances that Atlantic salmon could not survive or breed in B.C. waters, escaped farm fish have been found in 80 B.C. rivers. Populations of juvenile Atlantic salmon have been found in three rivers, including the Tsitika, in the same area as the latest escape.

According to David Suzuki, escaped Atlantic salmon can cause many problems for their Pacific cousins:

  • Escaped salmon can be carriers of disease and parasites, which pose a threat to wild salmon populations.
  • When the species farmed is native to an area there may still be an impact from escaped farmed salmon breeding with populations of wild salmon that are genetically adapted to specific streams.
  • In British Columbia there is a greater danger arising from the fact that most of the salmon farmed are Atlantic salmon. Evidence exists that escaped Atlantic salmon can breed in BC’s wild streams. The potential negative consequences of this could be dramatic.

Suzuki also describes how of the 88 previous escapes of farm raised fish, only one other attempt at recovery has been made. Environmentalists and Native people are calling on fish farms to move towards a permanent solution to prevent breakouts. Closed containment systems should replace all net-cage farms.

Written by Jennifer Lance

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  1. Wow- that is a major deal- I can’t imagine trying to go out and catch escaped fish would be very successful at all, so the idea that it happens at all is crazy. I don’t get why there wouldn’t be more protection to keep them contained- isn’t there even a backup? Thanks for this story, Jennifer- one more risk to be aware of as far as farming fish.

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