GLAND, Switzerland, 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
“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 at WWF-Norway.
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
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
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
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 and
"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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