— June 5, 2024 —

It’s Time to Stop the Anti-Salmon Farming Blame Game

AS PUBLISHED TODAY IN SALTWIRE: Dr. Brian Glebe, a retired scientist with a long career in the aquaculture industry, provided the following opinion article.

As a retired scientist (PhD in salmon genetics and physiology) with a career spanning 45 years, I’ve been following the ongoing debate and media stories that point the finger at salmon farming for the decline of wild Atlantic salmon.I have worked for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans at its Biological Station in St. Andrews, managed salmon hatcheries for the Atlantic Salmon Federation and worked in the aquaculture industry at Heritage Salmon when the sector was just getting started more than four decades ago.

I’m disheartened to see the anti-salmon farming narrative continue to be pushed by entities such as the Atlantic Salmon Federation and feel compelled to point out that important history and context are missing from the ongoing discussion of aquaculture escapes as it relates to the Magaguadavic River.

It is well documented that a natural wild Atlantic salmon run has never existed on the Magaguadavic River, likely due to the waterfall at its entrance and now the power dam located there. The river was stocked in the 1950s with DFO hatchery fish using Saint John River stock – the same genetic strain used by the aquaculture sector.

As detailed in the excellent 2007 book The Salmon Connection written by the late Dr. John M. Anderson, the ASF, believing that salmon farming would help take the pressure of wild stocks, became one of the initial smolt suppliers to the salmon aquaculture industry when the sector was just getting started in New Brunswick over forty years ago.

Dr. Anderson was a research scientist and University of New Brunswick president who had a passion for North Atlantic salmon. He served as Director of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Biological Station in St. Andrews, co-founded the Huntsman Marine Science Centre, and served as Vice-President of Operations at the Atlantic Salmon Federation. He believed in the value of collaborative partnerships and during his career he forged closer ties between finfish farmers, the research community and the salmon anglers on both sides of the US-Canada border.

In the late 1970s, I managed the ASF’s Chamcook hatchery (North American Salmon Research Centre) when it supplied Art MacKay’s Deer Island farm with his first 5,000 smolts. A cage mooring failure, due to unusually high spring tides, resulted in the escape of many of his fish into the Bay of Fundy. These fish may have contributed to the artificial run in the Magaguadavic River at the time. Despite this setback, MacKay succeeded in harvesting 14,000 lbs of Atlantic salmon in Lord’s Cove, Deer Island in the fall of 1979 – the first commercial farmed Atlantic salmon harvest in Atlantic Canada, an accomplishment that gave birth to the world-class salmon farming sector that now exists here.

While smolts from that hatchery set the stage for the salmon farming industry’s success, ASF’s main priority was to develop strains of Atlantic salmon for the restoration and enhancement of wild stocks, with desirable traits such as not migrating to waters off west Greenland, disease resistance, rapid growth and increased return rate. Dr. Anderson described it in his book as “an ambitious undertaking, its audacity not yet appreciated.”

During the time I worked at that ASF hatchery, we released hundreds of thousands of salmon from different strains, both from Bay of Fundy rivers and from the Miramichi River. Most of the fish strayed and did not come back in significant numbers.


Strays may have spawned with wild salmon from other populations in the Bay of Fundy area. We do not know exactly since no stream surveys looking for our errant fish were conducted A significant accomplishment was the creation of an artificial run into the Chamcook stream and the ASF hatchery. This demonstrated the amazing ability of some salmon to home to the point of their release as smolts.Given the history of the Magaguadavic River, it is misleading for ASF to continue to attempt to stir up a media furor over finding infrequent so-called aquaculture escapes there. Those captures are genetically the same as the hatchery-introduced wild salmon that are already there, so no harm comes if interbreeding occurs. In fact, the same thought strikes me every time the Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) posts a photo and media release of Atlantic salmon “aquaculture escapes” that their staff have captured and killed on the Magaguadavic River: what a waste of magnificent adult salmon that should have been left to continue their migration.

Furthermore, a 2012 DFO review of the status of the outer Bay of Fundy river populations suggested that many of the so-called wild salmon entering the Magaguadavic River were in fact escapes from the three commercial smolt hatcheries in the watershed. Because of the unique situation of the Magaguadavic River and the Outer Bay of Fundy, I have long advocated for using the Magaguadavic River as an example of how aquaculture escapes can help a local salmon population. The ASF should not kill the fish collected there; let those fish continue their migration to the river and see what happens. I think we would find that if these fish interbreed, they are not going to change the genetics of the population of that river because they are one in the same. Furthermore, any genes from aquaculture fish bred into wild fish are quickly eliminated by dilution with succeeding generations. I have never seen well designed experiments that demonstrate wild fish interbreeding with aquaculture fish are significantly less fit.

The straying of ASF and DFO Mactaquac hatchery historic smolt releases and aquaculture escapes breeding with wild salmon in proximal Bay of Fundy rivers (other than the Magaguadavic River) is another issue. Genetic surveys should be done, including eDNA and population genetics, to determine the status of the outer Bay of Fundy salmon populations and for management plan development.

Salmon farming is not going away, and the sector has made significant advances to prevent escapes. As an ASF member, our adversarial and anti-salmon farming approach to appease funders like Patagonia saddens and frustrates me, especially considering the history of collaboration between researchers, organizations and government in this province.

It is only by working together – as Dr. Anderson championed – that we will truly make progress toward wild salmon restoration. It is time ASF got on board with that or admit to the public that their mandate is an anti-salmon farming organization not a salmon conservation entity.

Brian Glebe, PhD, of New Brunswick, spent his entire career in senior research and management positions in the aquaculture industry as an expert in fish health and fish food production.

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