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Salmon farms become election issue after multiple deaths and escapes

Although the mass deaths were first detected on September 2 the public was not made aware until almost three weeks later.
Atlantic salmon being raised at a fish farm. (via Marine Harvest Canada)

This summer, almost 1,000 farm-raised salmon escaped their pen into a river in southern New Brunswick.

Around the same time, a 'mass salmon die-off' occurred at a Newfoundland fish farm.

Neville Crabbe, spokesperson for the conservation group Atlantic Salmon Federation, says the events are troubling, but there has been little public outcry.

"It's happening literally and figuratively under the surface. We simply don't see it," he tells NEWS 95.7's The Todd Veinotte Show.

Although the mass deaths, which haven't been added up yet, were first detected on September 2, the public was not made aware until almost three weeks later.

"It does really speak to some of the bigger transparency issues that I believe are affecting public trust in the industry itself," explains Crabbe. "We were certainly hearing rumours of something big happening, but the knowledge was kept from the broader public as this unfolded."

Crabbe says if this type of event had occurred in another industry, there would be massive repercussions.

"Could you imagine if there was a significant oil spill at an offshore oil platform in the Atlantic Ocean and that was kept from the public for approximately a month? I think there would be significant and justified outcries that that runs contrary to the public interest," he adds.

But Crabbe says that the fish farming companies need to be more accountable to citizens. In the Newfoundland instance, it was only through a union statement that people became aware.

"Companies are required to inform the government when things reach a certain level, but not necessarily the public," says Crabbe.

When salmon escape from fish farms or die in their enclosures, Crabbe says there can be major risks to the environment and other species.

"Imagine millions of fish struggling to breathe, being chewed alive by sea life," he explains. "They're just open enclosures placed at sea that rely on ocean currents to circulate the water and carry away waste."

In response, the Liberal government has included new regulations for fish farms in B.C. in its platform for the upcoming federal election. This proposal would see all open-net fish farms moved to closed containment by 2025.

"Technology has come a long ways," says Crabbe. "New therapies and treatments for disease and sea lice have been developed. Processing plants have been upgraded to become ultra-efficient. But the one essential piece of technology that really hasn't changed is the net pens themselves."

Crabbe says the Greens have included similar promises in their platform.

"It's an implicit acknowledgement of the risks that the industry poses to wild species and the environment," he adds. "We kill and eat animals all the time as a society, but it doesn't mean that we don't have a duty to care for those animals when we are raising them."

The spokesperson says the company responsible for the Newfoundland deaths has tried to mitigate the situation.

"[They're] basically brushing everything aside, saying there's no risk to the environments, there's no risk to wild fish or crustaceans," says Crabbe. "I think that's really oversimplifying the situation here."

Crabbe says he thinks most Canadians aren't paying attention to the issue, even though this farmed salmon is the same that ends up on your plate.

"Most people go to the grocery store and they see a nice looking pink fillet spread out on some shaved ice," he says. "They're not necessarily thinking of where that fish came from or how it ended up on store shelves."


Victoria  Walton

About the Author: Victoria Walton

Victoria is's weekend editor and a Halifax-based freelancer. She is originally from Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley.
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