Aquaculture proposal could destroy threatened wild Atlantic salmon

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In a news release Wednesday, March 16, the Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) and the Salmonid Council of Newfoundland and Labrador (SCNL) are calling for a full Environmental Impact Statement on a proposal by Grieg NL Seafarms to establish a massive sea cage salmon farming operation in Placentia Bay that threatens the existence of wild Atlantic salmon. Public comments on this proposal are due to Newfoundland‘s Minister of Environment and Conservation by March 26, 2016.

Don Hutchens, President of SCNL, said, “Contrary to the claims of Grieg, the proposed sea cage development in Placentia Bay poses a significant threat to wild salmon populations through genetic interaction when fish escape, the spread of disease, and sea lice infestation. Salmon populations along the south coast of Newfoundland have been designated as threatened by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and are now being assessed for listing under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). These populations are not likely to cope very well with the impacts of this project.”

ASF has reviewed Grieg’s proposal and concludes that their claim that it will have insignificant impacts on wild salmon cannot be justified by the information presented by the proponent or by the scientific literature. The opposition is based on several principles, including:

  • The claim that genetic interactions between wild and farmed salmon will be eliminated by using sterile female fish is misleading. 
  • Inadequate information has been provided about how escapes will be prevented or recaptured.
  • The proponent has not provided sufficient information on initiatives to control disease and parasites. 
  • Inappropriate siting of sea-cage sites near salmon rivers and migratory routes.

For these reasons, ASF and SCNL reject the proponent’s claim that the project will pose no significant risk to wild salmon 

Grieg’s claim that interactions between wild and farmed salmon will be eliminated by using sterile (triploid) salmon is not accurate. Grieg’s proposed process to sterilize farmed salmon to prevent interbreeding with wild salmon is not 100% effective, meaning that thousands of fertile aquaculture salmon are likely to be produced and put into sea cages every year. These fertile salmon have the potential to escape into local salmon rivers. There is documentation of numerous escaped farmed salmon entering salmon rivers along the south coast, from Conne River to Garnish River. There is also evidence of interbreeding between wild and farmed salmon in areas where salmon aquaculture already occurs along the south coast.

Don Ivany, ASF’s Director of Programs in Newfoundland and Labrador, said, “Furthermore, Grieg plans to use a foreign strain of salmon imported from Europe, which will result in significant genetic and biological damage to native wild salmon if these foreign-strain-salmon escape into nearby wild salmon rivers and breed with wild fish.”

The Grieg proposal provides inadequate information about how escapes will be prevented or recaptured. The proponent claims that the operation will meet Newfoundland and Norwegian standards for preventing escapes. Mr. Ivany continued, “This is of little comfort as both jurisdictions continue to experience problems with escapes, which indicates that the standards are not effective.”

Of significant concern is that the proponent has not provided sufficient information on the methods they will use to control disease and parasites. Outbreaks of Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA) have occurred at aquaculture sites located along the migratory corridor of wild Atlantic salmon, which led to the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of farmed salmon in Newfoundland in 2012 and 2013. ISA is a highly contagious disease that is lethal to Atlantic salmon and is spread in the marine environment among sea cage sites.

Mr. Ivany said, “The fact that Grieg’s proposal does not mention Infectious Salmon Anemia and how they will prevent or deal with outbreaks in their sea cage operations is very concerning”.

Grieg is proposing to locate all of the Placentia Bay sea cage sites along the migratory routes and/or near the mouths of salmon rivers with no acknowledgement of the risks to wild Atlantic salmon from escapes, spread of disease and sea lice infestation.

Both Mr. Ivany and Mr. Hutchens indicated that all the impacts on wild Atlantic salmon would be eliminated if the Provincial Government required Grieg NL Seafarms to establish land-based operations rather than sea cages in the ocean.

Mr. Hutchens concluded “The hatchery component of the project will be a fully land-based closed containment system that will grow fish up to three pounds in freshwater before they are transferred to sea cages. The ability to grow salmon to that size in land-based facilities represents a significant transfer of new technology to Newfoundland. We believe the future of aquaculture in Newfoundland would be better served if they were to invest in land-based facilities to grow the fish all the way to market size rather than transferring the salmon to outdated and environmentally destructive sea cages.”

For a full description of Grieg’s proposed project see:

http://www.env.gov.nl.ca/env/env_assessment/projects/Y2016/1834/1834_reg_doc_hatchery_copy.pdf

The Environmental Assessment for this proposal is open for public comment until March 26th, 2016.

Submissions to the Minister of Environment and Conservation can be e-mailed to: EAprojectcomments@gov.nl.ca (Quote EA registration #1834)

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