30,000 Salmon Escape Farm Penby Carolyn Heiman
Times Colonist, July 3, 2008
Incident near Campbell River sparks renewed calls for closed containers
A lone commercial seiner combed waters around Frederick Arm north of Campbell River yesterday in a vain effort to catch 30,000 escaped farm-raised Atlantic salmon.
The escape was one of the biggest for Marine Harvest Canada, the largest aquaculture business in the province.
It renewed First Nation, NDP and environmentalist calls for the industry to move to closed containers to raise fish and other marine species not native to Pacific coast waters.
Clare Backman, spokesman for Marine Harvest Canada, said only a few hundred fish had been recaptured by late yesterday and he was not hopeful too many more would be found.
But he said the fish were disease- and antibiotic-free, posing no threat to wild salmon. "I can't deny that a few will feed on herring and compete with wild salmon, but they can't mate with them."
Early Tuesday, employees at the 12-pen farm noticed that the corner of one pen was dipping into the water, allowing caged salmon, weeks away from being sent to market, to flee into the Strait of Georgia.
Backman estimated the loss of the salmon, around four kilograms each, at $500,000.
Backman said the company has been at the site -- 30 kilometres north of Campbell River and adjacent to the mainland -- for 10 years without incident. In general, escapes of this magnitude "are a thing of the past," he said.
Last September Mainstream Canada lost 17,000 Atlantic salmon in a similar incident at Clayoquot Sound.
Backman blamed extreme tide variations for causing a concrete anchor to slip down a slope, pulling the pen corner below water level and allowing the escape. He said the company will review the incident and learn from its mistakes.
But Homalco First Nation Chief Darren Blaney said the best intentions won't put an end to the accidental release of Atlantic salmon.
Raising the non-native species in closed containers is the only solution to protecting native stocks from the pollution, sea lice and disease possible from the farmed stock, he said.
Ruby Berry, salmon aquaculture campaign director for the Georgia Strait Alliance, said the industry talks about wanting to move to closed containers but "if they don't have to, they won't. ... Once they are required to [by law] the change will happen very quickly.
"We want the industry to remain, but we want it to be responsible to the environment and not affect the wild salmon." Backman predicted that the majority of the escapees would be eaten by seals and killer whales in the area. "Few will survive more than a few weeks or months."
But Blaney disagreed, saying Atlantic salmon have increasingly been found in rivers in the area that are depleted of Pacific salmon stocks. Blaney fears the Atlantic salmon will acclimatize to the streams, permanently affecting Pacific stocks.
The news prodded provincial New Democrats to call for the government to act on recommendations made in the 2007 Sustainable Aquaculture report, including requiring industry-wide containment systems for all aquaculture sites.
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