Farmed Atlantic Salmon Invade East Coast Rivers

Story by Mark Hume with Photography by the Atlantic Salmon Federation

Farmed Atlantic Salmon

A Humber River Jumper – at Humber Falls

Farmed Atlantic salmon are continuing to show up in New Brunswick’s beautiful Magaguadavic River, raising concerns that the invasive species is more widespread than thought along the Atlantic Coast.

Jonathan Carr, Director of Research and Environment for the Atlantic Salmon Federation reported in early October, 2013 that 71 farmed salmon had been caught in the Magaguadavic fish trap.

“The number is expected to rise, as additional fish have been observed at the fish ladder below the trap,” said Mr. Carr. “This is a serious issue as it is mandatory in New Brunswick for industry to report escapes of 100 salmon or more.”

It’s not known how many farmed salmon escaped pens along New Brunswick’s coast this year. And that’s the problem. With only a few fish traps in rivers, systems like the Magaguadavic are sounding an alarm – but the situation could be much worse elsewhere.

“How many other escaped farmed fish are entering other rivers?” asked Mr. Carr. “We have no idea because there is no comprehensive monitoring program in N.B., despite salmon being farmed in the Bay of Fundy at some of the highest densities in the world.” The Magaguadavic is New Brunswick’s sixth largest river. It is located East of St. Johns, near the small town of St. Andrews, and it flows from the interior fed by 103 tributaries and 57 lakes.

In other rivers near the Magaguadavic there are no fish traps to prevent farmed salmon from entering the rivers, where they can cross breed with wild stock, causing genetic contamination.

Farmed Atlantic Salmon

Atlantic salmon released on Bonaventure River

“When farmed and wild salmon interbreed, the progeny are less fit to survive and are less likely to produce healthy offspring themselves,” said the Atlantic Salmon Federation in a statement. “This most recent unreported escape highlights the need for better containment of farmed salmon, as well as increased enforcement of existing provincial and federal regulations,” states the ASF.

The ASF noted that a week before the fish showed up in the Magaguadavic trap, between 20,000 and 50,000 farmed salmon were reported to have escaped on the south coast of Newfoundland, raising similar concerns in that province. That escape was reported and the federal department of Fisheries and Oceans implemented a fish recapture plan – but there was no report in the Bay of Fundy, near the Magaguadavic.

“The problem”, said Mr. Carr, “is that reporting escape events is self-regulated by the industry. If they don’t report it, then we don’t know about it unless there is a monitoring station in place such as on the Magaguadavic”.

Farmed Atlantic Salmon

A Farmed Atlantic salmon attempting to enter the Magaguadivic River in Oct. 2013

Here the catch on the Magaguadavic is “ an early warning” that farmed salmon are likely getting into other rivers throughout the region and he urged Canadian officials to start trapping salmon in key rivers to stop such infiltration.

“When escapes have been reported to Maine officials, they have set fences or traps in specific rivers to try to stop the infiltration of the escapes into those systems. These methods should also be adopted in Canada. Keeping these escaped salmon from interacting with endangered wild salmon in the Gulf of Maine and Bay of Fundy is fundamental to the recovery of Atlantic salmon populations,” he said.

The Magaguadavic has long been plagued by the introduction of exotic species.

Smallmouth bass were stocked in the river in the 1920’s, farmed Atlantic salmon began to show up in the 1980’s and chain pickerel have been detected spreading through the system.

Farmed Atlantic Salmon

Matapedia River at Spawning Time