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International News, October 2005

Norway’s biggest farmed salmon escape

In September, a Norwegian salmon farmer reported the escape of nearly 500,000 fish from a site near Tustna. Which company was involved?

Step forward multi-national Marine Harvest whose Norwegian spokeswoman, Marit Solberg, reported by industry observers IntraFish, said, “For our part, we cannot understand how this happened as it was the moorings that have failed. These were extremely well secured and should have withstood the bad weather in the area.”

The “bad weather in the area” was hurricane-force winds that struck on 6th September. Marine Harvest seem to have had a lot of bad luck with the elements during 2005: in January their Scottish company lost 700,000 farmed fish from cages in the Outer Hebrides in Scotland – also due to hurricane-force winds.

Mark Esmark, Norway’s WWF spokesman, said that this escape proved that Norway’s salmon fjords must be emptied of salmon farms, whilst Morten Lund a director of Norway’s seafood federation commented: “It is vital to get an investigation up and running… so that we can learn from the mistakes that have been made.” Did their Scottish experience teach them nothing?

British Columbia - none so blind

In spite of overwhelming evidence of the impact of sea lice on runs of wild salmon in British Columbia, the Canadian federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) still refuses to take the matter seriously.

Earlier this month they issued a statement giving ‘information on sea lice’: “There are a number of factors which influence the survival of wild Pacific salmon including annual climate variation, predator and prey abundance, fishing pressure as well as impacts of naturally-occurring disease and parasites.”

What are these naturally-occurring parasites? Yes, you guessed: “Sea lice are naturally- occurring parasites found in every ocean and on many species around the world… wild salmon spread sea lice to farmed salmon… the presence of sea lice in the ocean is a broader marine ecosystem puzzle than simply pointing at salmon farms…. No direct cause and effect [of the impact of fish farm sea lice of wild fish] has been determined.”

Alexandra Morton, a biologist who lives and works in the area, has devoted many years of her life studying the impact of fish farm sea lice on wild fish in the Broughton Archipelago, has more than adequately shown that the DFO’s statement is, at best, disingenuous, and at worst, nonsense.

Speaking recently, Ms Morton said, “The returns of pink salmon are dismally low and scientific research has proven that sea lice from the fish farms is the root of this problem. Two rivers, the Wakeman and Kingcome, have less than one hundred fish and others are well below critical levels required for the continued survival of the stock.”

This view is supported by Joy Thorkelson, North Coast Representative for the United Fisherman and Allied Workers Union: “The federal and provincial governments should be fixing this problem, not permitting farms into new areas such as the North Coast,” she said.

Chile – Environmentalist call for moratorium on salmon farming

The seemingly unstoppable growth of the Chilean salmon farm industry has prompted leading environmental groups to cal, for a moratorium on further expansion of the industry until it can prove that it does not cause massive environmental damage.

Reported in the Santiago Times, economist Marcel Claude and marine biologist Alejandro Buschmann of the non-profit international environmental group Oceana recently presented a paper that linked the presence of salmon farms with the toxic red tides than increasingly plague Chilean waters and wreck the lives of local fisherman.

Marcel Claude said, “There is evidence that strongly suggests a relation between salmon farming and the occurrence of red tides,” citing investigations in Chile and in other parts of the world. Claude also observed that whilst the industry brought economic wealth to fish farm owners, it badly damaged the interests of Chile’s subsistence fishermen because of the shrinking diversity of native species. He added that wages in the industry are low and working conditions unacceptable.

Alejandro Buschmann noted: “We need to conduct an integrated study that examines this issue, along with other human activity (urban runoff, deforestation, and agriculture) in order to preserve the diversity of the region.”

US businessman and ecologist, Douglas Tompkins, founder of the Parque Pumalin nature reserve to the south of Puerto Montt in Chile’s X Region, has also called for a moratorium because he is concerned about the social and environmental costs of the salmon faming industry and does not believe that it is environmentally sustainable.

Meanwhile, Chilean salmon exports now exceed $1 billion with exports running at more than 240,000 tons; 38% to the USA, Japan 34%, and the European Union 14%.

The industry has now invited its critics to “develop projects that provide a real contribution, instead of creating conflict where this does not exist and which only tarnishes Chile’s image abroad and creates doubts about the seriousness of the Chilean export industry.”

Many observers would argue that the Chilean farm salmon industry needs no help from its critics to “tarnish Chile’s reputation abroad” as the industry does that very well on its own, i.e. sending loads of salmon to Europe contaminated with the banned chemical malachite green, and a load to Japan that was rejected because levels of contamination found in the fish.