Understanding the Plight of the Atlantic Salmon

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

Numbers of wild Atlantic salmon are disappearing and salmon farms may be to blame. Earlier this week, a news article published by National Post revealed the Atlantic salmon of Magaguadavic River in New Brunswick, Canada are now gone. This was suggested by an Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) monitoring report claiming zero salmon were recorded this year swimming up river to their historical spawning grounds. The ASF believes an expansion of fish farming in the region is the main cause. If salmon from these aquaculture operations escape, they can weaken the genetic integrity of wild salmon populations through interbreeding.

However, members the Atlantic Canada Fish Farmers Association (ACFFA) argue these are “hypothetical assumptions” and many other factors can be attributed to declines. Farmers also explain that strict regulations are in place to prevent fish from escaping and are always adhered to. 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 in pointing out multiple stressors to wild Atlantic salmon, the allegation that fish farms are a major contributor to population declines is not new. In 2008, a similar news article reported on a large-scale study which showed clear impacts of aquaculture practices on wild salmon (US Newswire, 2008). As brought up by Auld’s 2017 article, regulations have been created in response to these past findings. Nonetheless, farm salmon are still escaping into river systems indicating the need for more effective policy.

The fact that this same issue has previously been in the 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 Downs’ described cycle. Now after this “alarmed discovery”, there is a new sense of urgency and consequent media attention. This re-emergence into the public’s eye is most likely due to the conflict between the two stakeholders: the ASF and ACFA. Hansen (2015) illustrates this recycled concept of controversy-sparked media rather than coverage in response to scientific studies.

            The conflict between the federation and farmer association is of differing values and perhaps 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.

            In reflection of this news article and other recent media coverage of this problem (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 other environmental issues of today.



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

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

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 http://www.cbc.ca/

US Newswire. (2008, February 12). First Global Study Finds Fish Farms Detrimental to Wild Salmon Populations. Academic OneFile, Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=guel77241&v=2.1&id=GALE%7C...