Category: Management and Conservation
Published: September 1999
Author(s): Kevin H. Amos and Andrew Appleby
Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) are commercially reared in marine net pens in Washington State. The industry produces over ten million pounds of salmon each year with a total annual economic value which exceeds $40 million. The salmon net pen industry in British Columbia, Canada, is ten times larger than Washington.
One aspect of fish farming which concerns fishery managers is the escape of farmed fish and the impact escapees might have on native salmon stocks. This is of particular interest because of the recent listing of many salmon stocks in Washington as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Annual escapes of salmon from pens in British Columbia are estimated to be approximately 60,000 fish (Salmon Aquaculture Review, British Columbia). Annual escapes in Washington prior to 1996 are not recorded, however, in 1996, 1997, and 1999, catastrophic events resulted in the escape of 107,000, 369,000, and 115,000 Atlantic salmon, respectively.
The scientific evidence available prior to the summer of 1998 suggested escaped Atlantic salmon were not colonizing local watersheds and were not significantly impacting native fish. However, in 1998 and in 1999, naturally-produced Atlantic salmon were discovered in streams on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. This evidence indicates escaped Atlantic salmon are capable of successfully producing offspring in the wild. To date, there is no evidence of a naturally-produced Atlantic salmon surviving in the wild to maturity and spawning. Much is still unknown about escaped Atlantic salmon in Washington.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), the state agency with the mandate to manage the fish and wildlife resources of the state, has limited authority over private aquaculture. The authority of WDFW is limited to disease prevention and control. The Departments of Agriculture and Ecology are the agencies in Washington which regulate the industry and the escape of fish. Only after the fish have escaped does WDFW have authority to take action to manage the outcome.
Recommended actions to address the management of escaped Atlantic salmon include: 1) re-establish the authority of WDFW or other appropriate state agencies to manage most aspects of aquaculture, excluding marketing and commodity boards, which should remain with the Department of Agriculture, 2) provide adequate resources to WDFW to evaluate the impact of escaped Atlantic salmon on fish stocks in Washington and provide the resources necessary to manage the additional aquaculture regulatory authority being requested for WDFW or other appropriate state agency, 3) actively work with the fish management agencies in British Columbia, both federal and provincial, and the aquaculture industry, to ensure aquaculture regulations and management policies are consistent throughout the region, 4) actively pursue the implementation of an Atlantic salmon breeding program which requires the use in production of fish that are unable to reproduce in the wild (such as mono-sex or triploid fish) and, 5) institute a comprehensive code of practice for commercial salmon aquaculture administered by WDFW to ensure environmentally-sound fish culture. The code of practices should be implemented within a management framework jointly developed with the Ministry of Fisheries (BC) and the aquaculture industry.