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International News, November 2003

Royal Society - “Farm threat to wild salmon”

A new report published by the Royal Society vindicates fishermens’ fears that salmon farming can wipe out wild salmon stocks. In a 10-year study, researchers from Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland, found that wild salmon were vulnerable to extinction because of genetic and competitive pressures from farmed fish. Experiments with wild and farmed salmon hybrids in fresh and marine water showed that the offspring of fish that had interbred had a much lower survival rate - some 70% of the fish died in the first few weeks of life. Overall, farmed salmon were much less successful at surviving in the wild compared with native salmon and were unlikely to return to rivers to spawn. However, they grew quicker than wild salmon and the ones that did survive displaced many of their wild cousins from the rivers.

The team, led by Dr Philip McGinnity of Ireland's national agency, the Marine Institute, and Professor Andy Ferguson of Queen's University Belfast, warn that accidental and deliberate introductions of farmed salmon could lead to extinction of vulnerable wild populations of Atlantic salmon. Writing in the journal Royal Society Proceedings B the authors state that: “Our experiments, uniquely carried out over two generations, demonstrate conclusively that these intrusions lower survival and recruitment in wild populations and that repeated escapes produce a cumulative effect, which could lead to extinction of endangered wild populations”.

Dr Paulo Prodohl, a co-researcher on the study, told the BBC (20th October): “What we need is higher regulation and monitoring of the farming industry”. The paper – “Fitness reduction and potential extinction of wild populations of Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar, as a result of interactions with escaped farm salmon” – is available to download.

Stanford University study

A new report from Stanford University shows that salmon farms pose a significant threat to salmon fisheries in the Pacific Northwest. The growing popularity of farm-raised salmon has plunged the commercial fishing industry in the Pacific Northwest into a state of crisis according to researchers. Writing in the October issue of Environment magazine, the research team found that, since the late 1980s, worldwide production of farm salmon has increased fivefold, while the market share of wild-caught salmon from Alaska, British Columbia and Washington state has steadily declined. “Farm salmon represents one of the fastest-growing and most lucrative segments of the global aquaculture industry,” said Josh Eagle, director of the Stanford Fisheries Policy Project and co-author of the Environment report. “In 1980, commercial fisheries produced more than 99 percent of salmon consumed worldwide. Today, they catch less than 40 percent.”

The impact has been particularly devastating in Alaska, where 10 percent of the workforce is employed in some aspect of the salmon fishing industry, noted Ros Naylor, the Julie Wrigley Senior Fellow at Stanford’s Center for Environmental Science and Policy (CESP) and lead author of the report. “Wild salmon capture historically has played an important economic role by providing employment and incomes to a vast number of Native American and non-native communities along the coast,” Naylor said. However, Alaska’s share of the global salmon market declined from 40 to 50 percent in the early 1980s to less than 20 percent in 2000 - mainly because of competition from salmon farms in Chile, Norway, the United Kingdom and other countries, she said. Download the full report.

Irish TV expose

Salmon farmers in Ireland are still feeling the pressure after an Irish TV documentary broadcast in early September. According to the Mayo News (1st October): “The fallout from the recent Prime Time programme on the fish farming industry continued this week with the announcement from the Central and Regional Fisheries Boards that if action was not taken on the poor quality of salmon farm management, they were prepared to go to the European Union and request that the EU declare sea trout in the affected areas an endangered species. Meetings were held by a number of bodies last week in response to the Prime Time programme which highlighted the problem of sea lice in fish farms and the impact it was having on wild fish stocks, as well as incidences of illegal dumping of dead fish. At a meeting of the Central and Regional Fisheries Boards last week, it was decided that the Boards would ‘strongly advise’ the Minister for the Marine, Mr. Dermot Ahern, to take immediate positive action to ensure that ‘poor husbandry practices’ in the fish farming industry were stopped. Indeed, criticism has been levelled at the dual role held by the Department of the Marine in promoting the aquaculture industry and simultaneously acting as an environmental watchdog. The Green Party has questioned this clear conflict of interest”.

The Green Party have now called for a public inquiry into the monitoring and management practices in the Irish aquaculture industry. Friends of Clew Bay have also called on the Minister of the Marine not to issue any more fish fin licences in Clew Bay until there is a full review of the issues raised in the programme. The Irish Salmon Growers Association also held a meeting of its members in Galway to address the criticism of the fish farming industry addressed in the Prime Time programme. In a statement, the Irish Salmon Growers Association said that it has sought written assurances from its members that they are operating waste management plans on their farms and in their packing stations which are fully compliant with current EU, national and local regulations.

As the Mayo News reports: “The RTE Prime Time programme highlighted the strict implementation of regulations governing the industry in Norway and the efforts made to safeguard wild fish stocks, with heavy fines being imposed on fish farmers who fail to control sea lice levels in their fish farms. The Fisheries Boards have pointed out that breaches of sea lice levels were particularly serious in light of the fact that they regard the existing protocol levels for lice infestation as ‘far too lenient’. The Fisheries Boards were also concerned at the view taken by of the Marine Institute to the possible impact of lice on salmon smolts, in light of supporting research carried out in Norway. The Fisheries Boards believe that, in the absence of a properly funded research programme in Ireland, the Minister of the Marine should adopt a precautionary approach to protect wild salmon stocks” ().

Escapees enter Icelandic rivers

According to the North Atlantic Salmon Fund, farmed escapee salmon thought to be of Norwegian origin have started entering the premium clear water rivers in Iceland. Already an escapee salmon has been caught in the middle reaches of the famous Selá river on the east coast of Iceland. The Selá river is considered in the top rank of the world’s best rivers. Orri Vigfússon, the chairman of the North Atlantic Salmon Fund who is also the chairman of the River Selá Syndicate Strengur said that the first salmon had been caught about six kilometers up river. It was a 77 cm long cockfish and weighed 4,8 kilos. Experts quickly and easily identified the salmon of farmed origin.

Orri Vigfússon says he has demanded a full enquiry, a DNA-research into the origin of the escapees and a new range of regulations for this industry in Iceland. We fear that the Norwegian strain will pick up diseases and viruses that are lethal for the fragile Icelandic salmon stocks. “It is vital that the purity of their environment never becomes compromised.”. Six weeks ago fish farmers in the neighbourhood admitted that 3,000 Norwegian salmon had escaped from their farm pen in the vicinity of some of the famous Icelandic rivers Selá, Hofsá (where HRH The Prince of Wales used to fish), Vesturdalsá and Breiðdalsá. One of the escapees was tagged with a number from the very salmon farm in question.

According to the North Atlantic Salmon Fund, Icelandic authorities have in the past flatly rejected environmental impact assessment, any statistical monitoring and the river owners are having a fierce row with the Director of Fisheries and Fish Disease Veterinary Officer who have actively been promoting relaxed or no regulation atmosphere in this infamous industry in Iceland. The Minister of Agriculture in Iceland has ignored all requests for information that may lead to proper monitoring of the salmon farms. The Icelandic Government, like their counterparts in Canada, Scotland and Ireland, are selling wild salmon down the river.

Extinction of Alaskan fishermen?

According to the Anchorage Daily News (14th October), “The number of commercial salmon fishermen plying Alaska waters has plummeted 37% in the last decade as cheaper farm-raised salmon flooded the market, the state labor department said. As the farmed salmon industry enjoyed a meteoric rise, Alaska’s wild salmon industry plunged, the department said in the October issue of its magazine, Alaska Economic Trends. Farm-raised salmon represented only 1 percent of the world's production in 1980 but has since grown to represent three of every five fish, said labor economist Neal Gilbertsen”.

The analysis by the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development shows that: the number of salmon fishermen fell from 10,487 in 1990 to 6,567 in 2002; the Alaska salmon harvest in 1990 was 302,600 metric tons valued at $559 million but fell in 2002 to 238,000 metric tons valued at $130 million. “The economic losses have ricocheted through coastal communities as fewer fishermen have caused a decline in both crews and shore-based services. Monthly employment in the state's seafood processing industry fell from 11,200 in 1992 to 7,400 in 2002”. Fishermen, it seems are an endangered species.

Escapees flood Alaska

According to The Juneau Empire (7th October), “A commercial gillnetter near Petersburg found a 10-pound Atlantic salmon state officials say probably escaped from a British Columbia salmon farm. The 30-inch fish was caught near Point Baker south of Petersburg on Sept. 8 and turned in Friday, Alaska Department of Fish and Game officials said Monday. Agency scientists confirmed that the fish was an Atlantic salmon and not native to Southeast waters. “The invasive threat of escaped farmed fish is an escalating problem,” said Fish and Game Commissioner Kevin Duffy. “More fish farms in British Columbia are proposed and the lack of safe containment continues to plague the industry and threaten Alaska's salmon industry”.

Fish and Game officials say tens of thousands of Atlantic salmon escape each year from British Columbia salmon fish farms and some are successfully breeding in British Columbia streams. Hundreds of escaped Atlantic salmon have been caught in Alaska's marine waters over the past decade, one as far north as the Bering Sea, according to the department. The fish caught in September was the second Atlantic salmon found in Alaska this year, said Bob Piorkowski of the agency’s Invasive Species Program. State fisheries scientists say they are most concerned with the adult salmon that have been captured in Alaska Pacific salmon spawning streams since 1998. They worry that Atlantic salmon may become established in Alaska by pushing out wild Pacific salmon, rainbow trout and steelhead in areas where stocks or salmon spawning habitats are stressed.

The agency is asking citizens who catch Atlantic salmon not to release them, but to turn them in to Fish and Game for scientific analysis. Officials recommend freezing the fish if delivery is delayed. Wallet-sized Atlantic salmon identification cards are available at all Fish and Game offices. The department plans to survey several streams in Southeast Alaska next spring to determine whether young Atlantic salmon are present. A similar program by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife last spring found hundreds of young Atlantic salmon in a salmon stream.

Poison pufferfish

An article - “Poison fish” - in the November issue of Kansai Time Out magazine published in Japan makes for an interesting read. Pufferfish (fugu) are a traditional winter delicacy in Japan but the way they’re farmed is a cause for concern reports Nevin Thompson. “The next time you visit an expensive sushi-ya, beware of the globular puffer fish (fugu) who glumly float in a tank, waiting to be eaten. The vast majority of fugu is farmed and should be considered dangerous - and not just because its liver can kill you. Before being marketed, fugu is pumped full of antibiotics and is often bathed in carcinogens”. Mmmm.

In May, fisheries officials in Nagasaki Prefecture ordered over a million farm-raised fugu to be destroyed after local aquaculture cooperatives admitted to dumping formalin into floating sea-cages. Formalin, the liquid version of formaldehyde, the same chemical used to preserve laboratory specimens and embalm corpses, is used to kill external parasites. Formalin is also a known carcinogen and has been banned from human consumption in Japan since 1981. “Although fish farmers often have to resort to smuggling formalin over from Taiwan and Korea, its use is a widespread, underground activity that is unofficially sanctioned by the government,” says Matsumoto Motosuke, an activist based in Amakusa, Kyushu. “Paying fish farmers for breaking the law is just a stupid, wasteful use of taxes,” says Matsumoto. “Monitoring the use of formalin is limited to voluntary questionnaires. There is no legal mechanism to monitor, prosecute or punish fish farmers for using formalin”. The situation in Japan is eerily familiar to the state-sponsored pollution on chemically embalmed Scottish salmon farms.

Listeria in salmon

The problem of listeria in salmon is an escalating one. The Food and Drug Administration in the United States have recently issued recall notices for a number of smoked salmon products. According to the FDA, Royal Baltic’s ‘Imperial-European style salmon has “the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women”. Smoked salmon for Christmas anyone?