Marine Harvest Canada reported elevated mortality during a salmon smolt delivery at its Port Elizabeth farm a few days ago.
Delayed delivery and possible mechanical problems with the delivery vessel are thought to be the likely cause.
“We estimate 2 to 3 percent of the fish delivered did not make the transition from freshwater to saltwater, which is very rare,” said Dougie Hunter, Production Director at Marine Harvest. “Staff at our hatcheries and ocean sites are reviewing what occurred today to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”
Delay due to farm occupation
The company has had to adjust its delivery schedule to daylight hours to address safety issues due to activists protesting at the site, which has resulted in fish being held for up to ten additional hours within the delivery vessel. Another hour’s delay occurred this morning when protesters attempted to block the delivery.
“These delays have caused additional stress to the fish, which may have added to the mortality,” said Hunter. “We will now revert to our normal delivery routine, which is best for the fish.”
Estimates by site staff indicate that fewer than 5000 fish (weighing 150 grams) died, out of the 180,000 fish delivered.
“We are aware that some protesters witnessed the delivery this morning and may suggest the fish died from disease, but we know this isn’t the case,” Hunter says. “The fish delivered were in good shape leaving the hatchery, but unfortunately some looked in poor condition when unloaded this morning.”
Occupied since August
In accordance with aquaculture regulations, the fish delivered were screened for all diseases of concern before delivery and the screening confirmed no infectious diseases were present. Negative findings were confirmed by accredited third-party laboratories for IHN, ISA, VHS and PRV.
The company has asked veterinarians at Fisheries and Oceans Canada to visit the site to obtain samples.
The Port Elizabeth farm has been occupied by First Nation people since August 25. The occupants are worried about the effects of the open net farms on the local wild salmon. They have repeatedly stated that the fish farm operates within their territory without their consent.