My work at Living Oceans puts me in touch with local folks trying to correct the problems with open net-pen salmon farming. Last week was a case in point when I got a phone call early Friday morning from a friend who was gillnetting for chums off the North Shore of Malcolm Island. He called to say he had a bunch of Atlantic salmon in his net and wanted to know if there had been an escape at a fish farm recently.
One of the problems with open net-pen salmon farms are the inevitable escapes that happen. Whether the cause is from accidents handling fish farm boats and equipment, pens breaking loose or sinking in bad weather or predators ripping through to get a free meal, the result is always the same; farmed salmon - Atlantics in this case - being introduced into the marine environment.
So why is that a problem? Aren't those Atlantics just more catch for my fisherman friend? Aside from the risks associated with an alien species escaping into the Pacific Ocean, farmed salmon can and do consume wild aquatic resources, thereby depleting local stocks. Salmon farming industry advocates want people to believe otherwise by saying farmed salmon will only eat pellets and so when they escape, they won't survive in the wild.
After dissecting some of the escaped Atlantics that my friend brought in after fishing closed I can dispel any doubt that farmed salmon will consume wild aquatic resources. The picture is indisputable evidence. This also means that since farmed salmon are capable of eating food other than fish pellets, they are capable of surviving in the wild.
Transitioning open net-pen salmon farms into closed containment would eliminate or greatly reduce the problem of escapes along with a number of others. Those include;
- solid wastes from the farms entering the ocean and contaminating the marine environment under the pens
- Marine mammals drowning in predator nets
- Disease and parasite ( like sea lice) transfer between wild and farmed salmon
- The need for anti-biotic and chemical treatment of farmed salmon