Aquaculture North America

Atlantic Canada association criticizes scientists’ “irresponsible” claims on salmon decline

May 22, 2024
By Aquaculture North America staff

(Photo: Sean McGrath)

The Atlantic Canada Fish Farmers Association (ACFFA) has spoken out against recent claims by two Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) scientists who stated that aquaculture is the major reason for declining Atlantic salmon populations in Newfoundland’s Conne River.

The DFO research scientists, Travis Van Leeuwen and Ian Bradbury based in Newfoundland spoke to the CBC that three major issues were causing wild salmon decline in the Conne River, NL, including climate change and predation, “yet they subjectively deemed aquaculture the most significant without presenting any conclusive data to back up their claim. This is unacceptable coming from federal government scientists,” a press release from The Atlantic Canada Fish Farmers Association states. 

According to the ACFFA, aquaculture will play an important role in ensuring Canadians and the world have a safe, secure, and sustainable food supply.

The fish farmers’ group asked them to retract their statements, issuing a response to the researchers’ claims:


Firstly, the group said the decline in the populations of wild Atlantic salmon populations across the Atlantic region including the Conne River has been ongoing for decades due to reasons including predation from rapidly growing seal populations before salmon farming began.

They added that very few farmed Atlantic salmon have ever been detected in the Conne River. Bay d’Espoir salmon farms are 15-20 km away from the Conne estuary.

“It is a well-known fact that genetic material from Atlantic salmon of European origin is regularly found in wild salmon populations in Newfoundland and the Maritimes. This is likely part of the naturally occurring drift of wild salmon populations in the North Atlantic being influenced by well-documented south-to-north warming due to climate change,” the group’s response states.

Thirdly, there are strict codes of containment to prevent fish escapes that the aquaculture industry adheres to and the ACFFA said salmon farmers are vigilant in regularly inspecting and maintaining the integrity of their farms. They said escapes have reduced since the early 1990s and are below one per cent every year since 1995.

It also stated that sea lice parasites that naturally exist in the ocean are not a significant issue for salmon farms in Bay d’Espoir because of the freshwater influence and wild smolt run timing is also out of seasonal sync with the appearance of gravid female lice on farms.

“Post smolt salmon tend to migrate rapidly past aquaculture sites. The risk of disease transmission or sea lice transmission from farmed salmon to wild salmon is low even when the natal river empties into the same open bay occupied by the salmon farm. While mature wild salmon typically return from sea to their native river to spawn, approximately 12 to 15 per cent of the returning mature salmon migrate to a different river,” said Dr. Kurt Samways, parks Canada research chair in aquatic restoration at the University of New Brunswick.

Finally, the government has reviewed scientific literature detailing the benefits and risks of salmon farming, engaging academia, ENGOs, First Nation communities, aquaculture professionals, and fisheries scientists. The reviews have found very minimal impact on wild salmonids.

ACFFA said the salmon farming sector is committed to constant improvement and will make changes when scientific findings point to the need for any. 

“As we move forward to realize the potential of salmon farming for Canada, governments and elected officials need to be able to defend the integrity of their scientists to shape effective regulatory systems going forward. There is no room in that discussion for speculative, biased science,” the statement reads.

“The fact is climate change and predation have been occurring long before salmon farming. For these two researchers to point the finger at salmon farming alone as the major reason for wild salmon decline in the Conne River is irresponsible.”

Print this page


Story continue below