The Plight of the Atlantic Salmon

by nbitter on October 6, 2017 - 10:36pm


Numbers of wild Atlantic salmon are disappearing, and fish farms may be to blame. A news article published by National Post revealed the Atlantic salmon of Magaguadavic River in New Brunswick, Canada are now gone. This claim was supported by the Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) which recorded zero salmon this year swimming up river to their spawning grounds. It’s believed that an expansion of fish farming in the region is the main cause. The article explains if salmon from aquaculture operations escape, they can weaken the genetic integrity of wild populations through interbreeding. Members of the Atlantic Canada Fish Farmers Association (ACFFA) argue these are “hypothetical assumptions” and there are many other factors that can be attributed to declines. Farmers also point out there are strict regulations in place to prevent fish from escaping. Yet in the past decade, the number of farm salmon found at the Magaguadavic fishway frequently exceeds those of wild salmon. With this evidence the federation continues to emphasize the importance of prohibiting open-net salmon farms near wild salmon rivers.

Though the ACFFA is right to bring up multiple stressors to wild Atlantic salmon, the allegation that fish farms are a major contributor to population declines is not new. Nearly a decade ago, news articles were reporting on the impacts of aquaculture operations to wild salmon populations (Owen, 2008; US Newswire, 2008). This interest was in response to a large-scale study confirming fish farms have a potential to reduce wild populations by 50% (Ford & Myers, 2008). As brought up by Auld’s 2017 article, regulations have been created since then in attempts to reduce these impacts; but, farm salmon are still escaping.

The reappearance of this issue in today’s news exemplifies Downs’ (1972) theory of the issues-attention cycle. Before the disappearance of wild salmon in the Magaguadavic river, this matter was in the post-problem stage of the described cycle.  This stage is characterized by a decline in public concern because the issue has been addressed or a more pressing issue has emerged. In the case of wild Atlantic salmon and fish farms, initial coverage led to state awareness and the creation of government regulations and thus the problem subsided. Now after the “alarmed discovery” of Magaguadavic River, there is a new sense of urgency and consequent media attention.

 The return of this issue into the public’s eye is most likely due to the conflict between the two stakeholders: the ASF and ACFA. Auld decisively expresses this dispute in her article to draw public attention to the issue. Hansen (2015) shows in his longitudinal analysis the concept of controversy-sparked media has been used throughout time in coverage of environmental topics. Interesting enough, the 2008 news articles were written in response to a scientific study which instead contradicts Hansen’s (2015) findings.

The conflict between the federation and farmer association is of differing values and cognition due to a certain level of uncertainty. While the ASF strives to protect, conserve and restore wild Atlantic salmon populations; farmers rely on the success of their aquaculture productions for profit and livelihoods. In addition, the relative influence of other stressors is not explained and may be playing a larger role in the declines of Atlantic salmon than we are aware.

In reflection of this news article and other recent media coverage (MacKinnon, 2017), the government may consider implementing renewed regulations. Sadly, it is more likely the plight of the Atlantic salmon will be lost in the mass of environmental issues today falling victim to Downs’ cycle once again.



Auld, A. (2017, October 5). No wild Atlantic salmon found in N.B. river, conservation group says. The Canadian Press, Retrieved from

Downs, A. (1972). Up and down with ecology: the “issue-attention cycle”. The public.

Ford, J. S., & Myers, R. A. (2008). A global assessment of salmon aquaculture impacts on wild salmonids. PLoS biology6(2), e33.

Hansen, A. (Ed.). (2015). News Coverage of the Environment from: The Routledge Handbook of Environment and Communication Routledge.

MacKinnon, B. (2017, October 5). No wild Atlantic salmon returned to Magaguadavic River to spawn, conservation group says. CBC News, Retrieved from

Owen, J. (2008, February 12). Farmed Salmon Decimating Wild Salmon Worldwide. National Geographic News, Retrieved from

US Newswire. (2008, February 12). First Global Study Finds Fish Farms Detrimental to Wild Salmon Populations. Academic OneFile, Retrieved from