Catastrophic Salmon Escape Prompts Calls for Moratorium on Aquaculture Industry

Wed, 02/21/2001

Catastrophic Salmon Escape Prompts Calls for Moratorium on Aquaculture Industry

Catastrophic Salmon Escape Prompts Calls for Moratorium on Aquaculture Industry


2/22/2001 --  -- 

Largest documented escape ever in US or Atlantic Canada

The release of more than 100,000 farm-raised salmon into the wild has three Maine-based environmental organizations calling for a moratorium on any new aquaculture facilities in the state and the immediate overhaul of the system used to regulate those facilities.

"This escape points clearly to the State of Maine and the federal government ’s failure to develop adequate protocols to govern the aquaculture industry in spite of repeated efforts to have them do so," said Peter Shelley of the Conservation Law Foundation. "What is needed now is a halt to any new aquaculture facilities in the state until adequate protocols to prevent the escape of farmed fish are developed."

The three organizations, the Atlantic Salmon Federation, Trout Unlimited and the Conservation Law Foundation, say their demand follows a report from the state of Maine to the National Marine Fisheries Service of a pen failure during a storm which destroyed a cage containing over 170,000 one year old salmon. The escape, from a salmon farm in Machias Bay owned by Atlantic Salmon of Maine, occurred during a storm in mid December. It was revealed to federal officials in a February 2nd email from George Lapointe, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources, to Mary Colligan of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The groups criticized the state for failing to inform federal authorities in a timely manner. “The State’s failure to report this event for over seven weeks highlights the need for federal involvement in aquaculture permitting to protect Maine's wild salmon,” said Jeff Reardon of Trout Unlimited.

The escape, which could have catastrophic impacts on the endangered wild Atlantic salmon, came on the heels of four other documented escapes in Maine and Atlantic Canada in the past five months. A smaller escape from pens in Eastport, Maine occurred just one month prior where Connors Brothers Aquaculture lost an estimated 3,000 ­ 5,000 fish. That event was promptly reported by the state to federal officials. “Based on these two events alone, the number of aquaculture escapees this fall is 1,000 times the number of documented wild adults,” said Andrew Goode of the Atlantic Salmon Federation.

"The current aquaculture regulatory system does not have the capacity to prevent or to adequately address the escape of farm-raised salmon into the wild. Guidelines that require the mandatory reporting of escapees, tagging of farm-raised fish, the improved siting of aquaculture businesses, and promote the use of latest proven technologies must be developed and implemented immediately," said Reardon.

The negative impacts of aquaculture escapees on wild fish was listed by the federal government as a major factor for placing wild Atlantic salmon on the endangered species list this past November. Recent studies, including a multi-year study in Norway published in the Royal Society Journal, have shown that escaped farm-raised fish disrupt the behavior of wild fish and reduce the genetic diversity of wild populations and the overall survival in each subsequent generation.

At a recent international meeting on salmon aquaculture in Canada, a presenter noted that all the European salmon producing countries require the prompt reporting of escaped aquaculture fish yet the United States and Canada do not. The mandatory reporting of escapees is seen as a key tool in identifying industry trends and in making improvements in the fish containment systems.

"This ongoing series of escapes clearly demonstrate that the business of salmon farming in Maine needs to be improved and that improvement cannot happen soon enough. We now need to be asking, 'what is it going to take to develop an adequate, effective and responsible aquaculture strategy for the State of Maine,” said Goode.

The three organizations said the recent escapes of the farm-raised salmon demonstrate that not only is the Endangered Species Act listing for the wild Atlantic Salmon warranted but that it will be worthless unless its intent is followed through and new aquaculture guidelines are developed.

For More information:
Jeff Reardon, New England Conservation Director, Trout Unlimited
(207) 373-0700,
Andrew Goode, Director of US Programs, Atlantic Salmon Federation
(207) 725-2833,

Peter Shelley, Maine Program Director, Conservation Law Foundation
(207) 594-8107,


Date: 2/22/2001


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