Nfld. & Labrador

Farmed salmon to be released, tracked to monitor activity

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is releasing farmed salmon in an effort to track the fish and find out what they do when they escape.
Crews with the DFO tag farmed salmon ahead of their release into the wild, in order to track where the fish go when they escape from the pens. (Submitted by DFO)

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is releasing farmed salmon from their pens in an effort to track the fish and find out what they do when they escape.

Research from other countries, like Norway, has shown that the effects farmed salmon have on a natural environment are, at best, neutral, or have negative impacts — including a reduction of wild fish populations.

Geoff Perry, director of aquaculture management with the DFO in this province, said it's time to find out what kind of impact escaped fish have on the environment in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Perry said the releases are being conducted in coordination with Northern Harvest Sea Farms and the Conne River M'iqmaq, and will happen in the western part of Fortune Bay — between Rencontre East and Belleoram.

"We're doing a series of five simulated escape incidents, so we're going to release groups of 90 fish at a time in as many different size classes as we can," he said.

"Each of the fish will be implanted with a surgical tag that will monitor their movements, and we have a network of receivers deployed throughout Fortune Bay and around the mouth of rivers and on the Connaigre Peninsula and up into Bay d'Espoir. These receivers act like gates, so fish swim near one of these gates and we pick up a signal from it."

Where do they go when they're on the lam?

Perry said there will also be some manual tracking, in cooperation with people in Conne River, to look in a handful of rivers where DFO thinks the farmed fish may stray.

According to Perry, the destination these farmed fish head to — as well as when and why — is an important part of figuring out what kind of impact they have on the natural environment.

"We have monitored a number of rivers in the province for escapes over the last few years, certainly since 2012, and we're not seeing very large numbers of escapes in rivers at all. We don't understand that," he said.

"Whenever there is an escape incident, no matter how minor or major, we see very few fish ever straying into fresh water, so it's important to try to get a better understanding of how long they will survive in the wild, whether they will reproduce in the wild, whether they will interact with wild Atlantic salmon in rivers, or whether they will just hand around in the ocean until they starve to death."

DFO conducted its first release of 90 fish in September, and plans another release of 90 fish from three different  aquaculture sites in October.

Perry added there will likely be a third release over the winter, and into the spring and summer of 2015. The farmed salmon will be tracked over the next three years, if they survive that long.

All fish have tags both internally and externally, and Perry said fish harvesters should notify DFO if they catch one of these fish for tracking purposes.