Salmon escaped from Cooke Aquaculture farm, company confirms

Somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 fish escaped from Cooke Aquaculture's Hermitage Bay salmon farm last month, the company confirms.

Between 2,000 and 3,000 farmed fish escaped from Hermitage Bay site in late July

Up to 3,000 farmed salmon escaped from the Cooke Aquaculture salmon farm in Hermitage Bay. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 fish escaped from Cooke Aquaculture's Hermitage Bay salmon farm on Newfoundland's south coast last month, the company confirms.

Cooke Aquaculture said in a press release Tuesday that the escape happened at the Olive Cove farm over the course of four days, from July 27 to 30.

A diver inspected the farm's nets on July 30 and confirmed the escape, which happened after net extensions were sewn onto a pen at the operation.

"One of the ropes came undone in two places, resulting in two holes in the net around three to five feet long," the company said in its release.

Joel Richardson, vice-president of public relations for Cooke Aquaculture, said the fish that escaped did not have infectious salmon anemia (ISA) and were not being treated for any parasites such as sea lice.

"We never want to lose fish, that's for sure. But at the same time we do everything we can to make sure that we recapture them and do everything we can to prevent fish from being released," said Richardson.

"It's an important measure that we take and we reported the release to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and to the province immediately when it was discovered, and that's per the regulations and the farm management plan."

There have been numerous salmon escapes in the years since aquaculture took off in this province. Conservationists and outfitters say escaped farmed salmon threatens wild salmon populations.

The escaped fish were between five and six pounds each and therefore not market size, Richardson added.

Cooke's Newfoundland division, Cold Ocean Salmon, is trying to recapture the escaped fish — using gillnets approved by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).

The company has since repaired the nets that came undone.

In an email Tuesday, DFO said fishery officers are monitoring in the Hermitage area to help find escaped fish, and is working with the company and provincial authorities to recapture the salmon.

It said the provincial Department of Fisheries and Land Resources is responsible for the containment of fish at aquaculture farms.

The provincial department told CBC News that the salmon pens are in the ocean, which falls under DFO responsibility.

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With files from Mark Quinn