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Cooke Not Taking Responsibility for Escapes and Disease

Jun 21, 2021

Cooke Aquaculture issued a statement on June 11, 2021 concerning an outbreak of Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA) virus at its marine cage site at Olive Cove, Hermitage Bay. Another statement came on June 16, 2021 concerning the escape of 8000 to 10,000 juvenile Atlantic salmon at its Long Pond freshwater cage site near Hermitage.

Both statements were posted to the Newfoundland Aquaculture Industry Association (NAIA) website and both make it sound like Cooke is not in any way responsible. In fact, Cooke blames the natural environment for these calamities. NL-CAR is concerned with the cavalier tone of these statements and the total lack of responsibility Cooke Aquaculture takes for these events.

Cooke’s view on ISA virus is that it’s caused by wild fish such as Atlantic salmon. The statement reads “Farmers or farming practices do not create the virus problem – but farmers must manage it.” The truth is that the aquaculture industry has made the NL south coast notorious for its frequent ISA outbreaks. When salmon are packed densely into a net cage ISA and other pathogens amplify rapidly. Cooke claims that “all farmed fish are disease free when they enter marine farms”. They do not test for all diseases and therefore cannot make this claim.

ISA virus has had a devastating effect on the NL aquaculture industry because of mortalities, quarantines and loss of profit. As an ISA control method salmon from affected cages are harvested for market before normal maturity resulting in loss of profit because of reduced weight. Cooke assures us that ISA is not a concern for human health or food safety and references the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). However, the public has no way of knowing if they are consuming salmon that came from a site where ISA had been detected and therefore have no choice in the matter.

According to Leo White, a spokesperson for NL-CAR, “the cages are stocked too densely and the aquaculture sites are located too close to each other to prevent the disease from spreading between sites. It’s the same as other viruses, they spread easily in close quarters.”

Cooke’s June 16 statement advises that “it appeared that otters may have tore holes in the cage netting allowing the fish to be released.” Cooke calls this event a breach of approximately 8,000 to 10,000. Nowhere is the word “escape” used. If it were not so serious an event Cooke’s description would be laughable.

We have only Cooke’s estimate to go on. The actual number may be much larger as there is no third-party accounting. Also, DFO has had no success in recapturing escaped salmon. NL-CAR questions what responsibility the company has in these events and who holds them to account. Certainly not DFO and certainly not the province. Similar events occurred at the Long Pond site in 2007, 2014, 2017 and now in 2021.

How long has it taken for the industry to realize that otters and other animals can get into open net pens? This has occurred consistently with every sort of animal from whales and tuna to seals and otters. In the case of otters, a wire mesh enclosure would prevent the damage but after 30 years this solution has not been adopted.

Meanwhile, wild Atlantic salmon populations on the NL south coast are experiencing an increase in interbreeding with escaped farmed salmon. DFO advises that the wild salmon populations in the Conne, Little and Garnish Rivers are near local extinction and has stated that aquaculture is one of the factors contributing to the low marine survival. However, Cooke and the other aquaculture companies say they are not at fault. It’s just a big coincidence that these wild salmon populations happen to be in the same location as the open net pens for the same time period.

There is also evidence of the presence of an European strain of Atlantic salmon in the escaped farm salmon on the NL south coast. The Minister responsible, Honorable Derrick Bragg says it did not happen on his watch but it may have happened in the past. Again, very cold comfort for wild Atlantic salmon that are facing extinction.

For further information contact Leo White, NL-CAR spokesperson at 709 753 4034 or 709 727 8419 or by email at