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Salmon Escape from Canadian Fish Farm Probed

by Associated Press
The Seattle Times, July 4, 2008

VICTORIA, British Columbia - The escape of 30,000 Atlantic salmon, one of the largest from a British Columbia fish farm in recent years, is under investigation by the provincial Environment Ministry, a spokeswoman has confirmed.

The breakout from a net pen at Marine Harvest Canada's fish farm about 125 miles northwest of Vancouver, was large enough for the case to be assigned to provincial conservation officers, ministry officials said.

Clare Backman, director of environmental compliance at the Marine Harvest office in Campbell River on Vancouver Island, said the company is cooperating with the investigation.

"We, too, want to know the cause, and then they will determine whether or not there are grounds to go forward with charges," Backman said.

Company workers found that an anchor securing the net pen slipped into deeper water on Tuesday during the Canada Day holiday, pulling a corner of the pen far enough below the surface for the fish to swim away.

A seiner hired by the company recaptured fewer than 400 of the fish, which were mature and weighed about 9 pounds each, Backman said.

"The value of the (lost) fish to the company is just under half a million bucks," he said. "The extra work that we're doing to reposition the cage and the extra capture efforts are going to add probably a couple of hundred thousand (dollars) more to that."

About 450,000 Atlantic salmon remain at the operation in Frederick Arm between the Broughton Archipelago and Desolation Sound on the mainland.

The incident has renewed calls by conservationists for an end to marine fish farming in British Columbia.

In a news release, Catherine Stewart of the Living Oceans Society reiterated the groups call to limit salmon farming to closed containment inland so fish cannot escape into the wild.

The Atlantic Salmon Watch Program run by the Canadian Fisheries Department reported more than 1.4 million Atlantic salmon escaped into British Columbia waters between 1987 and 2002, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands' most recent statistics reported 19,000 escaped fish in 2006.

"The B.C. government can't continue to put our wild salmon and marine ecosystem at risk by pretending that they are addressing the problems of open net-cage salmon farming with tighter regulations," Stewart said release. "This latest escape is another example of the need for a better system for farming salmon and not another Band-Aid."

Marine Harvest Canada holds 77 fish farm tenures in British Columbia and Backman said the company is currently operating at 41 of those. Marine Harvest is the world's largest aquaculture company with operations in British Columbia, Scotland, Norway and Chile.

Associated Press
Salmon Escape from Canadian Fish Farm Probed
The Seattle Times, July 4, 2008

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