Imperiled Atlantic salmon decline is worsening

A salmon farming group is defending its effort to be transparent with the public about the problem of escaped fish in the wake of an incident in which hundreds of salmon got loose near the border of Maine and Canada.

Cooke Aquaculture, which dominates the salmon farming industry in the area, has said an equipment malfunction in August resulted in about 1,000 fish being released in New Brunswick by Kelly Cove Salmon Ltd., one of its divisions.

The incident stoked criticism from environmental groups that said escaped salmon jeopardize the vulnerable wild Atlantic salmon population.

Atlantic Canada Fish Farmers Association executive director Susan Farquharson said in a statement Friday that salmon farmers “do not want to lose a single fish.” She added salmon farming companies voluntarily report escapes to regulators and others.

“Our farming practices and technology continue to evolve,” she said. “Fish containment will always be a top priority as will our wild salmon conservation and enhancement efforts.”

Salmon farmers and conservationists are frequently at loggerheads in Canada and Maine because of the conservationists’ concern about the impact of fish farming on the remaining wild Atlantic salmon.

Atlantic salmon are listed as endangered in the Gulf of Maine under the U.S.’s Endangered Species Act. The last remaining wild Atlantic salmon in the U.S. spawn in a handful of rivers in Maine.

The Atlantic Salmon Federation, which advocates for the preservation of the wild fish, said last week its researchers have intercepted and removed more than 50 aquaculture salmon that were trying to enter the Magaguadavic River in New Brunswick.

The escaped fish are dangerous to wild salmon because they can carry viruses and parasites, said Neville Crabbe, a spokesman for the federation.

Spawning between wild and escaped salmon can also produce maladapted offspring that jeopardize the population at large, Crabbe said. That’s one reason transparency about fish escapes is so important, he said.

“As long as the fish are contained, they are the responsibility of the corporation. In the wild they are the responsibility of no one,” Crabbe said.

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