The Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) is calling on government and the aquaculture industry to provide transparency and compliance in reporting escapes from open net cages in the Bay of Fundy.
Recently, the industry reported escapes of 13,000 off Deer Island and 33,000 off Grand Manan. The number of escapees that showed up at monitoring facilities in the fall, before these reported escapes occurred, indicate that there were significant earlier escapes that were not reported by the industry in contravention of the reporting requirements of the NB Breach of Containment Governance Framework for Marine Salmon that came into effect in August 2010.
ASF's Director of Research and the Environment Jonathan Carr stated, "By mid October, 17 escapees had been detected by personnel at the Mactaquac facility on the St. John River. This number alarmed me as only six escaped salmon have been detected at Mactaquac in the last 5 years. At ASF's own monitoring station on the Magaguadavic River in the heart of the salmon aquaculture industry, 28 escapees had turned up before October 28. We would expect far fewer than 1% of the escaped fish to successfully make it to rivers following an escape incident, due in part to domestication. The numbers of escapees that did show up at Mactaquac on the St. John River and the Magaguadavic River indicate that large unreported escape(s) have occurred."
The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) recently assessed the wild Atlantic salmon population segments in the outer Bay of Fundy as endangered. These salmon are located in rivers that are adjacent to the Bay of Fundy aquaculture industry. The Inner Bay of Fundy populations were listed as endangered under SARA in 2003. In its report, COSEWIC cites "negative effects of interbreeding or ecological interactions with escaped domestic salmon from fish farms" as being key threats to these segments of wild salmon populations.
The fact that escapees are being picked up at the Mactaquac dam indicates it is likely that some may have entered and potentially spawned with wild salmon in the many river systems of the lower St. John River because there are no facilities to intercept, identify and remove them. The rivers in this situation include the Keswick, Oromocto, Canaan, Nerepis, Salmon, Hammond, and Kennebecasis. "These rivers are critical to establishing self-sustaining wild populations in the St. John River, the largest river in the outer Bay region whose populations were assessed to be endangered by COSEWIC. It is unacceptable that these salmon populations are exposed to this risk," said Geoff Giffin, ASF's Director of Programs for New Brunswick.
"The need for expedient detection and reporting of escapes is fundamental when it comes to protecting wild Atlantic salmon from the impacts of escaped farm salmon. The industry must be held accountable for the threats to wild salmon by being responsible for intercepting, identifying and removing escapees from each and every river system that is exposed. If this became a requirement of industry, there is no doubt that the costs associated with current open sea-cage aquaculture would rise considerably. In fact, it could make land-based closed containment aquaculture more economically feasible. For the industry to continue to operate in a manner that does not include complete recapture and removal of farm escapees, or better yet, total prevention of escapes using closed containment solutions, is irresponsible," concluded Mr. Giffin.