bc-091023-salmon-farm

Farmed salmon are raised in net pens in many areas of B.C.'s West Coast. ((CBC))

Investigators say a B.C. fish farm operator wasn't negligent when thousands of Atlantic salmon escaped last October, but one critic is questioning the government's standards.

B.C.'s Ministry of Agriculture and Lands says Marine Harvest reacted as well as it could when an estimated 47,000 Atlantic salmon escaped from the Port Elizabeth fish farm in the Broughton Archipelago.

Thousands of fish congregated outside the farm for hours afterward, but most were long gone by the time a recapture vessel arrived at the site 17 hours later.

Fewer than 1,200 fish were eventually recaptured, but Trevor Rhoades, the ministry's director of aquaculture operations, says Marine Harvest was not negligent in its response to the escape.

'They met the requirement for notifying us.' —Trevor Rhoades, director of aquaculture operations

"They met the requirement for notifying us. They also met the requirements for initiating recovery activities," said Rhoades.

But noted fish farm critic and biologist Alexandra Morton questioned the the ministry's recapture requirements, saying the province is merely "running interference" for the industry, when it should be holding companies to a higher standard.

"Clearly 17 hours was not good enough because they only caught 1,200 Atlantics," said Morton.

Critics say escaped Atlantic salmon, which are grown in closed net pens floating in the ocean, can spread diseases and parasites to wild Pacific stocks.

The B.C. and federal governments are negotiating control of the industry after a legal action by Morton led the B.C. Supreme Court to rule that the federal government, not the province, should regulate fish farms.