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July 7, 2008 - British Columbia's Environment Ministry is investigating last week's escape of about 30,000 Atlantic salmon from a fish farm 125 miles northwest of Vancouver operated by Marine Harvest Canada.
Marine Harvest, the world's largest salmon farming company, is cooperating with the investigation, Clare Backman, director of environmental compliance at the Marine Harvest office in Campbell River on Vancouver Island, told the Associated Press.
"We, too, want to know the cause, and then they will determine whether or not there are grounds to go forward with charges," Backman said.
Company workers found that an anchor securing the net pen slipped into deeper water on Tuesday, pulling a corner of the pen far enough below the surface for the fish to swim away. A seiner hired by the company recaptured fewer than 400 of the fish, which were mature and weighed about 9 pounds each, Backman said.
The 30,000 Atlantic salmon are valued at just under $500,000, and repositioning the pen and catching the escaped fish will cost about $200,000, he added. About 450,000 Atlantic salmon remain at the farm in Frederick Arm between the Broughton Archipelago and Desolation Sound on the mainland.
The incident renewed calls by conservationists to end marine fish farming in British Columbia.
"The B.C. government can't continue to put our wild salmon and marine ecosystem at risk by pretending that they are addressing the problems of open net-cage salmon farming with tighter regulations," said Catherine Stewart of the Living Oceans Society. "This latest escape is another example of the need for a better system for farming salmon and not another Band-Aid."
The Atlantic Salmon Watch Program run by the Canadian Fisheries Department reported that more than 1.4 million Atlantic salmon escaped into British Columbia waters between 1987 and 2002, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands' most recent statistics reported 19,000 escaped fish in 2006.