Salmon on the Lam: Fish Farms Suffering from a Spate of Escapes

It’s estimated that nearly 3 million salmon escape from farms worldwide each year.

salmon farm, fish farm
Escaped farmed salmon can alter marine environments and associated food chains around the world. (Photo: Getty Images/Epics)
Clare Leschin-Hoar's stories on seafood and food politics have appeared in Scientific American, Eating Well and elsewhere.

So much for Marine Harvest’s zero-escape policy. The company, the world’s largest producer of farmed salmon, has been busy trying to retrieve salmon that broke free after the storm Dagmar swept Norway with hurricane strength winds over the holidays. Just how many escaped through damaged nets is unclear.

According to Bloomberg, there were two net tears in an enclosure that held 139,000 salmon. It’s reported that the company retrieved 30 fish near the original site and that fishermen caught an additional 150 fish, though the company is unsure if the captured salmon are from their farm.

“We do not know the size of the potential escape until we have counted the fish in the pen, scheduled to be harvested in March,” Marine Harvest spokesman, Jørgen Christiansen, tells TakePart. “There are no indications that the escape mentioned is major.” 

It is however, one of four incidents for Marine Harvest Norway in 2011.

They’re not alone.

On Christmas night, a hurricane-force storm sent loose 12 large salmon cages, believed to contain 300,000 farmed fish, owned by Meridian Salmon Group. The cages were found this morning by a spotter plane after drifting in the North Sea for nearly two weeks. According to Shetland News, it is unlikely the fully-grown fish have survived.

Recent escapements, like those mentioned above, highlight an ongoing problem for finfish aquaculture. Farming salmon in open-ocean net-pens inevitably means some fish will escape into the wild. Worldwide, it’s estimated that nearly 3 million salmon escape from farms each year. That figure matters because invasive farmed salmon are known to compete with native wild salmon for habitat, food and mates. (And this point doesn’t even touch on the conversation about feed-ratio conversion rates, legal and illegal pesticide use or pollution issues caused by large-scale finfish aquaculture.)

According to the Pure Salmon Campaign website: “The escape of millions of salmon from enormous net pens every year has drastically altered marine environments, coastal rivers, and associated food chains around the world. These fugitive fish pose a new and little understood form of environmental pollution.”

The criticism isn’t new, but continued incidences like the recent escapes mentioned above, keep the conversation alive.

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