Statement on European origin aquaculture Atlantic salmon within the Bay of Fundy

Sep 5, 2018
On August 31st, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), through the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat, published a Review of the Science Associated with the Inner Bay of Fundy Atlantic Salmon Live Gene Bank and Supplementation Programs.

The genetic analysis carried out by DFO as part of this review has confirmed a disturbing fact. The authors write: “European farm escapes, or their European farm/North American farm hybrid offspring, appear to have been spawning in the [inner Bay of Fundy] during the period spanning 1997 to 2012, including during all or most years within this period.” The source of these foreign salmon is identified by DFO as the local open net-pen salmon aquaculture industry.

European strain Atlantic salmon are desired by the North American aquaculture industry for commercial reasons but have never been legally permitted for introduction into New Brunswick or Nova Scotia waters. Although salmon aquaculture companies in Maine were allowed to import European salmon and eggs beginning in the mid 1980s, the practice was prohibited in 1993. Companies then exploited a legal loop-hole and continued to import European origin sperm (milt) until 1999. Subsequent regulatory action was taken, and by 2006 no salmon of partial or pure European origin were permitted in Maine waters.Regular genetic sampling of the industry is conducted in Maine to ensure compliance.

In 2006, Fisheries and Oceans Canada in collaboration with ASF researchers published the first study documenting European genes in aquaculture escapes at two sites within the outer Bay of Fundy (Magaguadavic River, Chamcook Stream). The samples collected included a post-smolt of pure European origin, indicating that foreign strain fish were being reared in hatcheries by local industry during the study period.

 Records obtained from the New Brunswick government through access to information show that beginning in 2014 a local company applied to regulators to import sterile, Icelandic origin salmon eggs that would be used for trials in the Bay of Fundy. It appears from records the project was abandoned in early 2016 after New Brunswick’s Department of Environment and Local Government determined an environmental assessment would be necessary.

ASF contends that none of the above events account for the latest discovery of European origin salmon genes within the Bay of Fundy. Instead, DFO’s research is evidence of more recent and sustained use of European origin salmon by the aquaculture industry, a clear violation of the New Brunswick Aquaculture Act. Inner Bay of Fundy Atlantic salmon are also an endangered species formally protected by Canada’s Species At Risk Act.

Unfortunately, DFOs detection of European genetics only partially describes the magnitude of aquaculture salmon introgression in the Bay of Fundy. Unable to obtain baseline genetic samples of industry broodstock to use for comparison purposes, DFO scientists conducting the inner Bay of Fundy live gene bank review could not determine if other non-native strains detected in the inner Bay of Fundy were strays from the St. John River or aquaculture escapees. Understanding the full extent of interbreeding between wild and aquaculture salmon in the Bay of Fundy would be possible if the industry was compelled to provide access to genetic data.

Although the live gene bank program has been successful at preventing the extinction of inner Bay of Fundy Atlantic salmon, it has not succeeded in restoring self-sustaining populations. ASF recognizes that factors like poor marine survival and land use activities have contributed to declines and hamper recovery, however, the continued presence of escapes constitutes an additional high-level threat according to DFO.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the governments of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, along with Environment and Climate Change Canada which is responsible for administration of the Species at Risk Act, must take action to track down the source of illegal European introductions and additionally take immediate steps to monitor and report ongoing escapes from the open net-pen salmon aquaculture industry. Until then, recovery efforts will be hampered by the presence of domesticated fish in wild populations.

An overwhelming body of scientific literature has documented the negative consequences of wild salmon populations interbreeding with domesticated aquaculture escapes.

See for example:

ICES. 2016. Report of the Workshop to address the NASCO request for advice on possible effects of salmonid aquaculture on wild Atlantic salmon populations in the North Atlantic (WKCULEF), 1–3 March 2016, Charlottenlund, Denmark. ICES CM 2016/ACOM:42. 44 pp.Glover et al. 2013. Read more

Bourret V, O’Reilly PT, Carr JW, Berg PR, Bernatchez L. 2011. Temporal change in genetic integrity suggests loss of local adaptation in a wild Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) population following introgression by farmed escapees. Heredity, 106, 500–510. Read more

McGinnity, P., Stone, C., Taggart, J. B., Cooke, D., Cotter, D., Hynes, R., McCamley, C., et al. 1997. Genetic impact of escaped farmed Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar L.) on native populations: use of DNA profiling to assess freshwater performance of wild, farmed, and hybrid progeny in a natural river environment. ICES Journal of Marine Science, 54: 998-1008. Read more

McGinnity P, et al. 2003. Fitness reduction and potential extinction of wild populations of Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar, as a result of interactions with escaped farm salmon. Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 270: 2443–2450. Read more

Fleming, I.A., Hindar, K., Mjolnerod, I.B., Jonsson, B., Balstad, T. and Lamberg, A. 2000. Lifetime success and interactions of farm salmon invading a native population. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B-Biological Sciences, 267: 1517-1523. Read more

For More Information Contact:

Neville Crabbe – ASF Communications
Ph: (506) 529-1033

More Posts

September 25, 2023
September 5, 2023
August 30, 2023
August 23, 2023