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Fish Food For Thought

On occasion, I surf the Internet to inform myself about the current Atlantic salmon situation in Maine, Canada, and beyond.  I read that in the 1950s, Atlantic salmon from rivers in the United states and Canada, as well as Europe, were discovered to feed in the ocean around Greenland and the Faroe Islands.   A commercial fishery using drift nets to catch salmon was created.   After a number of record catches, the number of salmon plummeted.   Between 1979 and 1990, the salmon harvest fell from 4 million to 700,000.   Overfishing in the North Atlantic is generally considered the major factor in our vanishing Atlantic salmon population.   Beginning around 1990 the rate of Atlantic salmon mortality at seas more than doubled.   In the western Atlantic, fewer than 100,00 of the sea-run salmon were returning.   Rivers of Maine, New Brunswick, and mainland Nova Scotia saw runs drop precipitously.   By 2008, possibly because of improvements in ocean feeding grounds, returns  were positive.   The salmon returns in the Penobscot River were about 940 in 2007, and in mid-July in 2008 the count was 1,938.   In 2011 more than 3,100 Atlantic salmon returned to the Penobscot, the most since 1986.

     Fish farms have also negatively impacted salmon fishing on the west coast of North America.  British Columbia has been featured in a variety of articles.  That Canadian province has experienced disastrous results in the Fraser River after a Norwegian company was allowed to construct fish farms along that famous salmon habitat.   The company was permitted to raise Atlantic salmon for commercial use.   Viruses and other bacteria on the farms escape into local waters impacting the sockeye salmon.   Those fish farms have propagated sea lice that have also infected the runs of the native sockeye salmon in the Fraser River.

       As recently as last week, Atlantic salmon farming in Washington state waters was banned.   Governor Jay Inslee signed the ban on non-native fish farms into law last Thursday morning in Olympia, approximately 7 months after 250,000 Atlantic salmon escaped into Puget Sound from a floating farm.

     "These present a risk to our wild salmon runs that we cannot tolerate," Inslee said.

     The floating farm is owned by New Brunswick, Canada-based Cooke Aquaculture.   Washington's remaining Atlantic salmon farms, all owned by Cooke, could be gone by 2022, once their existing leases with that state's Department of Natural Resources expire.   The controversy over these fish might not be over, with Cooke, which raises salmon on three continents, exploring legal options including suing under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

     Controversy over fish farms is not limited to the US and Canada.   According to "The Guardian', an online magazine, "Wild Atlantic salmon are threatened by escaped farmed salmon and sea lice.   The fish farms in Scotland are frequently hit by parasite infestations and mass escapes that threaten the survival of the UK's wild salmon populations," the Salmon and Trout Association stated.  Official inspections revealed that many salmon farms around the Scottish coast have had infestations of sea lice parasites that have led to the wild salmon suffering wounds or an early death before they are able to spawn.   The S&TA said that the government's inspection regimen was failing and too lenient.   The association raised significant questions about the common practice of routinely warning the fish farms, often 10 days in advance, that an inspection was to take place.   This allows the salmon farms to take action on the sea lice and repair the damaged nets before the inspector arrived.

     Guy Linley Adams, solicitor for the S&TA and former conservation director with the Marine Conservation Society, in an online article, stated," All inspections should be unannounced and all inspection reports must be published weekly, in line with more rigorous enforcement utilized in Norway.   The majority of Scotland's fish farms are Norwegian-owned, yet they enjoyed the weaker UK regulations."

     Another video documentary, by Silver Donald Cameron, "Salmon Wars", is about fish farms in Nova Scotia.   Investors are also placing fish farms on the eastern shore of Canada.   The documentary informs us that when one of the farms had an outbreak of sea lice, the solution to control the parasites was to treat the pens with cypermethrin.   In Canada it is illegal to use that agricultural pesticide for marine use and is toxic to lobster.   A Canadian lobster holding facility in Nova Scotia had lobsters worth millions of Canadian dollars wiped out.

   Hopefully, Maine's environmental limitations for fish farms are stricter...but we have to be vigilant and do all we can to protect all our species. Our clean air, water, and a healthy environment are priceless.

     Maine's State, and the Federal government, have spent millions of dollars to protect, and proliferate the return of Atlantic salmon runs in the Penobscot River [and other Maine rivers].   With the removal of the Veazie Dam and Great Works Dam, numerous anadromous species such as the American shad, alewives, and striped bass, should  benefit along with the Atlantic salmon.

     March ends in a couple of days, and ice fishermen have to remove their ice shacks.   Meanwhile, fly fishermen are sharpening their elbows as they get ready to fish Grand Lake Stream on Sunday, April 1.

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