Concerns raised again over escape of farm-raised salmon

Posted: Tuesday, August 22, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- The escape of thousands of farm-raised Atlantic salmon in British Columbia has once again raised concerns in Alaska about mixing non-native species with wild salmon.

Alaska outlawed salmon farming in 1990. The state opposes Canada's farms. Alaska biologists and fishermen are worried farmed salmon will breed with wild salmon and reduce local stocks ability to survive. They also fear farmed salmon will bring diseases to wild fish, or outcompete wild stocks for space and food.

''It's not natural,'' said Ben Van Alen, salmon research supervisor for Southeast commercial fisheries in Alaska. ''So anything that's not natural is something we should be very suspicious of.''

Alaska plans to raise the issue of escapes at a meeting scheduled in a couple weeks in Washington, D.C., said Dave Gaudet of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

''We certainly are getting no assurances that their practices are getting any safer,'' he said.

An unknown number of mature Atlantic salmon, weighing 10 pounds or more, recently escaped from a fish farm near the north end of Vancouver Island, about 350 miles south of Alaska waters.

They were noticed in nearby Canadian commercial fishing nets early last week, but it's not known when the fish escaped from a large circular net pen that holds up to 75,000 fish at Sargaunt Pass, east of Port McNeill.

The torn net has been repaired, and several thousand fish have been recovered by commercial fishermen, the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association said.

About 286,000 farmed fish are known to have escaped from British Columbia farms between 1991 and 1999, Gaudet said.

The number of escaped fish has gone down as pens have been improved with stronger nets and sometimes a double-net system, said Anita Peterson of the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association. Escapes are now about 0.3 percent of the fish produced, down from 3.7 percent in 1990, the B.C. government said. Meanwhile, production has risen from 22,000 tons dressed weight in 1995 to 47,000 tons last year.

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