Cooke Aquaculture Experiences Massive Die-Off, Tries to Skirt Regulators

For decades, marine conservationists have sounded the alarm on offshore finish aquaculture. These salmon and steelhead genetic clones, often non-native, cause direct and indirect environmental harm. Bacterial infection and disease crossing over to wild populations, water quality pollution, and genetic dilution are just some of the ways offshore aquaculture. But, often their biggest environmental impact comes from how they feed their crop. We’ve seen how finfish aquaculture operations have plagued the Pacific Northwest and Canada: net pens have collapsed sending millions of farmed fish into these productive waters.

A couple weeks ago, an aquaculture operation off the coast of Maine experienced a large scale die-off. An estimated 100,000 salmon died at Cooke Aquaculture’s Black Island fish farm. If you follow conservation issues on the Atlantic Coast, you probably know of Cooke’s subsidiary Omega Protein and their massive, localized harvests of menhaden. According to reports, the salmon died from low dissolved-oxygen. However, one has to wonder how bad conditions need to be to kill 100,000 fish penned in the ocean–let alone the impacts on the adjacent environments and wildlife.

Protect Maine’s Fishing Heritage Foundation Executive Director Crystal Canney said: “Emails obtained as part of a Freedom of Access Act (FOAA) request indicate Cooke Aquaculture knew as early as August 16th that the die-off occurred. The Department of Environmental Protection wasn’t notified until August 27th according to the emails, 11 days after Cooke employees saw dead fish in the water.”

Our coastal environments need to be managed and preserved for their natural productivity and contributions to coastal communities. Offshore finfish aquaculture, at this time, seems to be a risky activity that threatens our coasts.

Canney added: “This incident and the slow response brings into question the state’s relationship with industrial-scale aquaculture. At every turn, industrial-scale aquaculture is given the benefit of the doubt, whereas lobstermen and fishermen have their feet held to the fire. We need evidence that Maine’s oversight agencies are putting the health of our waters first, and not turning a blind eye to industrial-scale aquaculture damaging our oceans. This is why the answers to our questions about this die-off are so important.”

Aquaculture is becoming quite the popular topic, and it very may well be required to feed an ever-growing world. But the upmost protections need to be taken to ensure it is not negatively affecting our natural ecosystems. For more on this die-off check out Bangor Daily News.

Cover picture courtesy of Protect Maine’s Fishing Heritage Foundation

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