"The biggest environmental danger we face from salmon escapes is when farming species within their native range, such as Atlantic salmon in the Atlantic Ocean," says Dr. Ian Fleming, Director of the Ocean Sciences Centre at Memorial University of Newfoundland.
He is presenting the results of his latest research on the risks of fugitive farmed fish at the 2005 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington D.C. on February 18. The work was supported by Science and Engineering Research Canada (NSERC).
Fish raised in large ocean pens have genetic traits that make them distinct from their wild counterparts. This has led critics of the fish farming industry to argue that farmed fish that break free a common occurrence might breed with native ones, perhaps compromising the health of the entire species and threatening its ability to survive in its natural setting.
Dr. Fleming says the key to avoiding this real ecological danger is to break what is normally considered a biological taboo: deliberately introducing a new species into an ecosystem.
"The real issue is a fascinating one it's to analyze if it is actually better to be farming Atlantic salmon on the West Coast rather than farming Pacific salmon there," says Dr. Fleming. "That might be considered a heretical idea, in the sense that we would be introducing an exotic species into the Pacific, and all our knowledge of invasive species suggests that we shouldn't do that. But with salmonids, particularly Atlantic salmon, there are indications that that might not be such a bad idea."
Atlantic and Pacific salmon do not interbreed successfully. If escapees find themselves on the opposite coast, this substantially reduces the likelihood that they
Contact: Dr. Ian Flemming
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council