Oct. 13, 2016
Province worst at protecting wild salmon from aquaculture: report
John Chilibeck Legislature Bureau
New Brunswick’s fisheries minister is slamming a report critical of the aquaculture industry that came out the same day officials were celebrating the release of stocked wild Atlantic salmon into Fundy National Park.
Rick Doucet did not hold back when he was asked about the international report, issued by the Atlantic Salmon Federation, that said among places with big salmon farms, New Brunswick was the worst for protecting wild salmon from problems caused by aquaculture pens.
“Today we were in Fundy National Park to celebrate the release of 500 adult wild Atlantic salmon back into the river. It’s a great story and perfect example of thinking outside the box. Look at the collaboration involved – First Nations, Parks Canada, DFO scientists, the Coast Guard, they were slinging the wild fish into the river with a chopper. Cooke Aquaculture,they care for these salmon. Everyone was there taking part, and if it hadn’t been for the industry it wouldn’t have taken place. And where was the Atlantic Salmon Federation? They weren’t there.”
Doucet was upset because Wednesday’s event in southeastern New Brunswick had been sponsored by the aquaculture industry. The fish had been reared at the world’s first wild salmon aquaculture conservation site near Grand Manan.
But the Federation blames the aquaculture industry for hurting salmon in the wild.It has long argued the open-net pens full of farmed fish that dot the Bay of Fundy and Passamaquoddy Bay pose a threat to the wild salmon that are nearby.
“The farmed fish foul the environment around the sea cages, add to the presence of disease and sea lice,” said spokesman Neville Crabbe in an interview. “The farmed salmon that inevitably escape their cages get out into the rivers where they can breed with wild fish. All of those things have negative consequences on wild Atlantic salmon.”
The detailed report written on behalf of the federation by Gardner Pinfold Consultants Inc.says the province abides by less than half (45 per cent) of the gold standard for salmon protection when it comes to the open-net cages that are common in the Bay of Fundy and Passamaquoddy Bay.
By comparison, Newfoundland, Maine, Nova Scotia, British Columbia and Norway all do a better job protecting wild fish.
Newfoundland is at the low end,meeting just half the criteria, while Norway comes out on top, fulfilling 82 per cent of the recommendations laid out by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council Salmon Standard.
Crabbe said New Brunswick scored poor marks for having an older system of containment for the farmed fish that hasn’t been updated for eight years and not providing genetic markers for escaped fish like the industry in Maine does. He also criticized the fact that the industry is only required to report problems such as disease and escapees to the government regulator, whereas in Norway the information is posted publicly right away.
“We want the provincial government to create tougher regulations.”
The minister said that wasn’t going to happen.
“There are a number of factors that have contributed to the decline of the wild Atlantic salmon population,and we all know it. This report certainly painted the worst-case scenario for the aquaculture industry in New Brunswick. The industry has been around for three decades and one in four people work in it in Charlotte County. But the problem of disappearing wild salmon started well before this industry came into the picture.”
Doucet pointed out there’s no aquaculture sites near the Miramichi and Restigouche rivers,where salmon are also in decline.
Still,the problem is worse in the southern half of the province. Once a crucial part of the diet and culture of First Nations people and settlers, it’s difficult to find the fighting fish in the St. John River or Big Salmon River near St. Martins anymore.
While the recreational wild salmon fishery is said to generate $130 million annually in Eastern Canada,most of that angling is now concentrated in places farther north,such as Quebec and Labrador. In northern New Brunswick, the industry is estimated to generate $40 million in business every year.
Contrast that with the province’s aquaculture industry, which is a far bigger player: It is worth $250 million to $300 million annually.
Doucet and others say ocean fishing in places like Greenland, global warming and higher water temperatures, pollution, habitat destruction and predation by other animals like seals could all be contributing to the disappearance of the iconic species.
Crabbe said his group isn’t blaming aquaculture for all the threats to wild Atlantic salmon.
“It’s isn’t fair to blame aquaculture for the whole cause of the demise of salmon in the Bay of Fundy. But it is fair to say that aquaculture has had a negative impact on wild salmon populations in the bay and remains a significant threat.”
Susan Farquharson, the executive director of the Atlantic Canada Fish Farmers Association, said Wednesday there wasn’t much real value in the report.
“It was clearly written from an anti-aquaculture stance,” she said.“One of the things we do agree in the report is the call for more regulatory consistency across jurisdictions. We’ve been advocating for some time now for a national aquaculture act.”
Farquharson also attended the wild fish release near Alma on Wednesday. In the inner Bay of Fundy region, the salmon population has collapsed. The numbers dwindled from 40,000 50 years ago to fewer than 250 by the year 2000.