Since the late 1980s, wild salmon catch and abundance have declined dramatically in the North Atlantic and in much of the northeastern Pacific south of Alaska. In these areas, there has been a concomitant increase in the production of farmed salmon. Previous studies have shown negative impacts on wild salmonids, but these results have been difficult to translate into predictions of change in wild population survival and abundance. We compared marine survival of salmonids in areas with salmon farming to adjacent areas without farms in Scotland, Ireland, Atlantic Canada, and Pacific Canada to estimate changes in marine survival concurrent with the growth of salmon aquaculture. Through a meta-analysis of existing data, we show a reduction in survival or abundance of Atlantic salmon; sea trout; and pink, chum, and coho salmon in association with increased production of farmed salmon. In many cases, these reductions in survival or abundance are greater than 50%. Meta-analytic estimates of the mean effect are significant and negative, suggesting that salmon farming has reduced survival of wild salmon and trout in many populations and countries.

The ecological risks of salmon aquaculture have motivated changes to management and policy designed to protect wild salmon populations and habitats in several countries. In Canada, much attention has focused on outbreaks of parasitic copepods, sea lice (Lepeophtheirus salmonis), on farmed and wild salmon in the Broughton Archipelago, British Columbia. Several recent studies have reached contradictory conclusions on whether the spread of lice from salmon farms affects the productivity of sympatric wild salmon populations. We analyzed recently available sea lice data on farms and spawner–recruit data for pink (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) and coho (Oncorhynchus kisutch) salmon populations in the Broughton Archipelago and nearby regions where farms are not present. Our results show that sea lice abundance on farms is negatively associated with productivity of both pink and coho salmon in the Broughton Archipelago. These results reconcile the contradictory findings of previous studies and suggest that management and policy measures designed to protect wild salmon from sea lice should yield conservation and fishery benefits.

Pacific salmon migrations normally protect juvenile salmon from sea lice; salmon farms can increase the exposure of wild juvenile salmon to sea lice. Sustained high exposure to lice can lead to parasite outbreaks among wild juvenile salmon; annually recurrent infestations are associated with depressed wild salmon stocks. Abiotic, biotic, and anthropogenic factors are thought to mediate the sea louse threat. Policy is needed that supports conservation, monitoring, and adaptive management

Rather than benefiting wild fish, industrial aquaculture may contribute to declines in ocean fisheries and ecosystems. Farm salmon are commonly infected with salmon lice (Lepeophtheirus salmonis), which are native ectoparasitic copepods. Researchers show that recurrent louse infestations of wild juvenile pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha), all associated with salmon farms, have depressed wild pink salmon populations and placed them on a trajectory toward rapid local extinction. The louse-induced mortality of pink salmon is commonly over 80% and exceeds previous fishing mortality. If outbreaks continue, then local extinction is certain, and a 99% collapse in pink salmon population abundance is expected in four salmon generations. These results suggest that salmon farms can cause parasite outbreaks that erode the capacity of a coastal ecosystem to support wild salmon populations.

Pathogens are growing threats to wildlife. The rapid growth of marine salmon farms over the past two decades has increased host abundance for pathogenic sea lice in coastal waters, and wild juvenile salmon swimming past farms are frequently infected with lice. Here we report the first investigation of the potential role of salmon farms in transmitting sea lice to juvenile sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka).

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