Update: More escapes arrive at Magaguadavic fishway

contact: ncrabbe@asf.ca

Sep 20, 2019
ASF Biologist Eric Brunsdon with three of four escapees pulled from the Magaguadavic fishway trap on Monday, Sept. 16. Tom Moffatt/ASF
Nine escaped aquaculture salmon were removed from the Magaguadavic River this week, including four on Thursday. The latest captures come after a pulse of 53 escapes in late August and early September. The season total of escaped salmon now rests at 62, the most since 2013.

Through scale analysis, ASF researchers are able to confirm the origin of salmon, whether wild or cultured. Aquaculture fish are removed and brought to ASF headquarters for sampling. On Sept. 11, at a meeting of the New Brunswick Aquaculture Containment Liaison Committee, ASF staff gave tissue samples from the first 53 escapees to industry representatives who have committed to track down the source of the fish through genetic testing.

Results will tell whether all the escapes captured this year came from a Cooke Aquaculture site near Deer Island, which reported a breach on August 20th, or if there have been other unknown or unreported events.
ASF has been monitoring the fishway at the mouth of the Magaguadavic River since 1992. The graph shows that escapes are a chronic problem with the industry.
What is the N.B. Aquaculture Containment Liaison Committee?

In January 2017, representatives of NGOs, federal and provincial governments, and industry came together to form the New Brunswick Aquaculture Containment Liaison Committee. At the moment, member organizations include:
  • Atlantic Salmon Federation, 
  • Atlantic Canada Fish Farmers Association 
  • N.B. Salmon Council
  • Conservation Council of N.B.
  • Cooke Aquaculture
  • Northern Harvest (now Mowi)
  • New Brunswick Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture, and Fisheries
  • Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
The committee’s goal is to reduce the number of fish escaping into the wild. After a breach, committee members are supposed to share information with each other about the incident and discuss steps taken to recapture and intercept the loose fish.

Since its formation, the committee has met a handful of times, including last week in St. George.
ASF Biologist Eric Brunsdon uses a microfiche to read a scale from a salmon discovered this week in the Magaguadavic River fishway. Tom Moffatt/ASF
The Containment Committee is not a public registry

In a September 13 press release, the Atlantic Canada Fish Farmers Association claimed that, “Salmon farmers are already transparent about escapes,” because “companies voluntarily report it to the provincial regulator, who in turn notifies numerous groups, including ASF.”

This is misleading and problematic. Escape reports in New Brunswick remain confidential. Government has to have company permission to release  information. As recently as September 9th, ASF requested the latest escape report submitted by Cooke, in which the company downgraded its estimate of fish lost in the August 20 breach. The report was withheld, citing confidentiality.

In New Brunswick, the industry is shielded from public scrutiny of their operations. In the same year Cooke Aquaculture pleaded guilty to a campaign of illegal pesticide use, the New Brunswick Legislature added an exemption to the Aquaculture Act, protecting publicly held data on the industry from being released through Access to Information Requests.

While NGOs have an important role, companies that profit from the use of public waters, and the agencies which oversee them, bear responsibility for escapes and the damage they cause. The selective disclosure of information to a small committee does not equal transparency.

However, there are examples of what transparency on escapes can look like, including in Scotland, where details of every breach are publicly logged. Cooke and Mowi, the only two salmon aquaculture companies with operations in the Bay of Fundy, also have cages in Scotland and conform to these requirements.

If the industry is committed to transparency, we ask that Mowi and Cooke give consent to the provincial government to publicly release all breach of containment final reports from 2018 and 2019, and any that are filed in the future.

This will help determine all possible sources of the fish that continue making their way into the Magaguadavic.

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