Date: Sat, 30 Oct 1999 15:11:33 -0700
===== A message from the 'fishfarmrev' discussion list =====
As BC Expands Salmon Farms, Washington State Calls for Controls on Industry
by ED HUNT [posted.10.22.99]
OLYMPIA--As Environmentalists voice opposition to the BC government's
decision to lift a moratorium on Atlantic Salmon fish farms, Washington
state salmon farms accidentally release more fish each year and are subject
to only a scattered and completely un-funded regulatory oversight.
This week, British Columbia announced that it was lifting a four year
moratorium on Atlantic Salmon fish farms.
Yet, at the same time, government officials acknowledged that the current
system of fish farming had harmed the environment, and announced plans to
improve environmental monitoring and increase controls on the escape of
Atlantic salmon which now appear to be reproducing in the wild.
Yet, in Washington state, where Atlantic salmon farming operations are a
tenth the size of BC's industry, thousands more of these non-native salmon
have escaped into the wild each year, and the regulatory authority of
salmon aquaculture is un-funded and fractured between three agencies.
Last month Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife asked the state
senate to give that agency -- or at least some agency -- authority over
salmon aquaculture. Washington state needs to develop comprehensive
regulations to ensure that salmon farming operations are environmentally
sound and pose no threat to
native salmon populations, scientists told members of the state Senate
Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation Committee
"Basically what we told them was somebody needs this authority," said Andy
Appleby, WDFW's aquaculture specialist. "It makes sense for us to have it,
but some state agency needs to have regulatory authority reestablished."
The problem stems from a decision by the legislature in 1985 that took most
regulatory authority away from WDFW. The Department of Agriculture now has
control over commodity distribution and marketing; WDFW has authority over
disease control, import, export and transport; and state Ecology officials
have authority over waste discharge. Once the salmon escape and become
"free ranging," Appleby adds, they then come under WDFW's control.
"Once they are free ranging we have control of the critters," Appleby says.
"We have the mop and the bucket, but we don't have any authority to call
the plumber to fix the leaking faucet. It'd make more sense if we could
prevent that faucet from leaking in the first place."
And plenty of salmon are leaking. Over the last four years, an average of
100,000 fish a year have become "free ranging" by escaping the net pens
used to raise Atlantic salmon in Washington waters. Each escape raises
concerns that Atlantic salmon will eat threatened wild salmon or compete
for limited food sources. Interbreeding with native populations of Pacific
salmon is also a concern as well as fears that the farm raised salmon may
transfer diseases to wild stocks.
Although the Department has not seen clear evidence of such damage yet, the
potential for harm exists because of the sheer number of farmed fish which
have found their way into the local environment, Kevin Amos, state director
for Washington fisheries health said.
While WDFW still considers the possibility of Atlantic salmon "colonizing"
Washington's waters remote, their concern has increased in the past two
years with reports from BC that wild reproducing juvenile Atlantic salmon
have turned up in streams on Vancouver Island. In fact, word of naturally
reproduced juvenile salmon in BC streams prompted WDFW officials to issue
the report delivered to the Senate last month. "We wouldn't be responsible
scientists if we ignored these incidents," Appleby said.
He added that WDFW has been meeting with BC about Atlantic Salmon issues
and that he testified to the Senate that they would like to "end up with a
sort of intergovernmental agreement recognizing that these are regional
issues, not just Washington and B.C."
"The standards and guidelines we propose to be developed should be done in
concert, or at least compatible with those developed in BC, " Appleby said.
"It only makes sense when you think about it. If the other party is doing
anything different, it's still going to have an impact."
More than 10 million pounds of Atlantic salmon, with a total economic value
to the state of more than $40 million, are produced annually in Washington
waters. About 100 million pounds are produced annually in British Columbia.
This week's announcement is expected to allow BC's salmon farming industry
to expand by another 25 to 40 percent.
This year 115,000 non-native Atlantic salmon escaped from a fish farming
operation in Puget Sound during a single incident. No similar incidents
were reported escaped in 1998, but 369,000 -- the largest escape ever --
occurred during a towing operation in 1997.
Aside from major escapes from fish farm operations here in 1996, 1997 and
this year, about 100,000 fish are believed by experts to escape into the
environment each year through chronic "leakage" from underwater net pens in
"Their industry is about ten times our size and their reported escapes
haven't been as large as ours," Appleby said. "That's because they have a
different level of intensive regulation authority. They have some pretty
strong requirements and intensive monitoring. That really was the issue in
our paper -- down here there is no one assigned to do that sort of
BC also has a much better capitalized aquaculture industry. In Washington,
salmon farmers have gone through a number of financial difficulties and
several owners. That instability has left them unable to invest the capital
needed to upgrade their facilities.
"They're using pretty old technology and they recognize that." Appleby
said. After recent sales, one company now owns all the facilities in
Washington state and Appleby says, the hope is that will "provide some
Besides recommending development of a comprehensive code of scientific
salmon aquaculture practices to promote environmentally sound fish culture,
WDFW made the following recommendations to reduce the environmental risk of
Use non-reproducing fish in Atlantic salmon aquaculture to eliminate the
risk of farmed fish colonizing the state's waters.
Appleby this could be of two types. A type of Atlantic Salmon that has been
genetically engineered so only females are produced and a triploid salmon
that has an extra chromosome and so is unable to reproduce.
The triploid salmon can be created by pressure or heat being applied to the
developing salmon at a certain stage in its development. The disadvantage
of the female salmon is that they could reproduce in the wild if they found
males to mate with, and then would be able to produce both male and female
off spring. Appleby says neither of these techniques is being used in
production on the Pacific Coast.
Devote adequate funding for management of the Atlantic salmon industry in
Currently no state funding is dedicated for management if this $40 million
Reestablish the authority of WDFW or another appropriate state agency to
regulate aquaculture, including determining the species which could be
raised, inspecting aquaculture operations, providing educational
opportunities for aquaculturalists and establishing an Atlantic Salmon
Watch program as focal point for gathering data.
Appleby said that currently the Atlantic Salmon Watch program formally
exists only in Canada. The program works to educate fishermen to look for
Atlantic salmon in the wild and to report their findings. Currently Appleby
has borrowed some Salmon Watch posters for use in Washington state and
state employees are trained to look for, capture, kill and report Atlantic
salmon they find.
Washington doesn't have salmon watch effort mobilized in BC, through
trapping and other salmon management activities state fisheries workers
have had a number of opportunities to come across escaped Atlantic salmon.
To date, they have not found a naturally reproduced juvenile -- as has been
found in BC. However, they have picked up smolts at traps on two locations
in southwest Washington and traced them back to smolt producers up stream.
"We notify the producer that he's had some leakage," Appleby said. "We've
caught a few on the Cowlitz basin and at Mayfield dam. But we've never seen
an adult in either of those two watersheds. So we're assuming the fish
While WDFW is concerned, the state agency still regards the salmon farming
industry as a low level threat to wild salmon stocks, Appleby said. When
the National Marine Fisheries Service looked at impacts to Pacific Salmon
stocks "aquaculture didn't even appear on radar screens."
The story is different on the East coast, where the National Marine
Fisheries Service is expected to list Atlantic salmon as endangered in the
next few weeks. In Maine NFMS has said that the growing, $60 million salmon
aquaculture industry--whose cultivated fish are escaping, breeding with,
and genetically disrupting wild fish--is a leading threat to wild salmon
Appleby said he'd be more worried too if farmers were raising Pacific
Salmon instead of Atlantic. The chances of interbreeding and interaction is
much higher when the same species is involved.