May 12, 2005 (ENS): Farmed salmon escaping
into Norway’s open waters by the hundreds of thousands
are posing an increasing risk of disease, breeding difficulties
and genetic contamination to wild Atlantic salmon, a
new report from WWF reveals.
About half a million farmed fish escape into Norwegian
waters every year, so many that one out of every four
salmon or trout found in Norway’s coastal waters
are escapees, the global conservation organization reports.
“One third of Norway’s wild salmon stocks
are already suffering because of human activity,”
said Dr. Simon Cripps, director of WWF’s Global
Marine Program. “Add to that the increasing threat
of escaped fish and we have to ensure that industry
and government clean up their act and begin to act responsibly.”
Norway’s fish farming business is a cornerstone
of the country’s economy, producing nearly 600,000
tons of farmed salmon and trout each year. At the same
time WWF reports, Norwegian waters hold half of the
global stock of wild Atlantic salmon.
With fish jammed tightly into cages, fish farms become
breeding grounds for disease and parasites, such as
sea lice. Escaped infected fish can take these diseases
with them into open water and infect the wild salmon
population, already depleted due to dams and weakened
"It’s totally unacceptable that such enormous
amounts of farmed fish have escaped from fish farms
into open waters, undermining the long-term survival
of wild salmon," said Maren Esmark, marine coordinator
The lifecycle of the wild Atlantic salmon takes it
from the river where it was hatched thousands of kilometers
out at sea, and several years later, back again to the
same river to spawn its own offspring.
The Norwegian government monitors 30 rivers annually,
and the results from 2003, show that eight of these
have more than 20 percent farmed fish.
WWF’s report shows that the up-river migration
of escaped farmed salmon late in the spawning season
physically displaces the eggs of the wild salmon that
have already spawned.
The high number of escaped salmon has led to an increase
in interbreeding between the two varieties, which WWF
says dilutes the gene pool and threatens the survival
rate of offspring.
Areas with dense fish farming are most impacted, WWF
researchers report. The Hardanger fjord is by far the
sea area with the most escaped fish – and it is
located in Hordaland, the Norwegian county with the
highest production of farmed salmon. In the outer parts
of the Hardanger fjord 86 percent of the wild salmon
is of farmed origin.
WWF is also concerned about the increase in escaped
farmed cod from Norway’s expanding cod farming
industry and the effects this can have on the already
imperiled stocks of wild cod. Escaped fish, whether
they are salmon or cod, also represent an economic loss
for the industry.
The Norwegian government and the fish farming industry
have taken some steps to reduce the number of escaped
fish, but WWF says more needs to be done.
New measures should include increased security to prevent
escapes, the individual tagging of farmed fish, and
the location of fish farms away from vulnerable stocks
of wild salmon or wild cod, WWF says.
Both the United States and Iceland have requirements
for individual tagging of farmed fish. WWF strongly
supports the ongoing Norwegian project looking for the
most efficient way to introduce a system for tagging
of farmed fish in Norway.
Norwegian Minister of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs
Svein Ludvigsen acknowledges that there are problems
facing the aquaculture industry. Addressing an international
aquaculture investor’s conference in Namibia February
14, he said that fish farm "escapees represent
another challenge that has high priority from both authorities
"From an environmental perspective it is important
to reduce the risk of genetic interaction between farmed
fish and wild fish stocks," Ludvigsen said. "As
one effort to reduce escapees the government has introduced
technical standards for equipment used in fish farming."
Additional methods have been introduced by the Norwegian
government, as well as by the industry, to reduce the
amount of escapes. Exclusion zones for fish farming
in areas with important and vulnerable wild salmon stocks
date back to 1989.
Fifty-two temporary exclusion zones for fish farming
were established in 1989 in fjords adjacent to 125 of
the most important salmon rivers in Norway. No new licenses
for salmonid fish farming have been given in these areas
since an evaluation of the zones was done in 1996 and
the working group recommended that the zones should
be retained, and that some should be expanded in order
to give a better protection.
All escapes are reported to the government with information
about where and when it happened, the extent and the
cause of the escape.
The government conducts detailed monitoring of the
amount of escaped fish in rivers and fjords, and there
is a requirement for mandatory training of personnel
and staff on fish farms.
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