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Farm Escape Prevention Practices

With the recent news coverage of over 16 000 escaped farmed salmon in Europe, the importance of escape prevention is made even more prominent in today’s aquaculture industry. By providing the majority of the world’s fish for food, the global aquaculture industry needs to place escape prevention high on its list of priorities. While the effectiveness of escape prevention and regulations differ from region to region across the world, the consequences of escaped farmed species can have the same negative effects around the globe.

Escapes can be categorized into a few different broad categories that describe the nature of the escape. The first is structural failure of equipment, which refers to equipment breaking down or nets losing their strength and obtaining holes. Next there is operational related failure that deals directly with the day to day operations interfering with the integrity of the infrastructure. This could mean operational mistakes that lead to spills of fish for example. The last has to do with external factors, such as storms or boats ruining the infrastructure.

The consequences of farmed fish escaping can affect the surrounding environments, can have societal impacts and affect the economic gains that a farm could have otherwise produced. While in most regions of the world there are aquaculture regulations and best management practices that are being implemented, in some areas these regulations are not enforced and in others they simply do not exist. Though not necessarily common, the escape of farmed species may have the ability to affect surrounding environments through mating, competing for space and prey.

The most direct cost of escaped fish is borne by the aquaculture industry in the form of foregone revenue, lost capital and public perception problems. With the aquaculture industry already receiving major criticisms from groups around the globe an escape can be detrimental to the reputation of farm or Aquaculture Company.

Based on these reasons and causes of escape, we have compiled a list of important escape prevention practices to help farmers and farm operation managers reduce the risk of escaped species from their own farms.

1. Mandatory Reporting: While some regions have mandatory reporting regulations in place to document the event of fish escapes from aquaculture sites, other regions of the world do not. As such, one step toward escape prevention is the implementation of accurate reporting systems in the event of a fish escape. There should be some sort of incentive program in place to ensure that all farm sites are reporting their losses as they happen.

2. Mechanism to collect and learn as much from the mandatory reporting as possible: What is the point of collecting the data regarding escapes if those in field cannot learn from it? In order to prevent escapes, not only should there be mandatory reporting but also some sort of mechanism that allows farmers and site managers to access the details of other escapes so that they can learn and take on preventative measures to combat similar issues on their own farms.

3. Regulating party inspections in a timely fashion when an escape takes place: In many cases of fish escapes, the farm manager is the one identifying the cause of the escape. While site managers have extensive knowledge about their farms and the aquaculture industry in general, it is always good to have a second opinion from a party that may have the ability to look deeper into what took place. By having a regulatory body inspect the cause of an escape in a timely manner to ensure that no evidence has been lost, the reason for escapes may be clearer and become more accurate. This means that whomever wishes to learn from past escapes has an accurate understanding of what are the main issues and areas of concerns related to fish escapes.

4. Training for high importance tasks: Before building an aquaculture site, a lot of thought and preparation needs to go into the plans for building (I know this is the case for many sites out there today but this point is still important). Identifying the key areas and issues surrounding escapes allows those involved in the building process to understand the aspects that are the most important to prevent these escapes such as net integrity, the proper mooring of lines, etc. In regard to these tasks, those who are installing these aspects of the site should receive more intensive training and their work should be given a second opinion to ensure that everything is in place as it should be. This allows for less chance of escapes in the future by preventing the risk of structural failures.

5. Effective response plans: While many aquaculture companies have response plans in place, there are still those that do little to mitigate the effects of a fish escape event. In British Colombia, licenced farms are required to have a response plan in place in the event of an escape. Important aspects of these plans can include the reporting of escaped fish in detail, investigation of the escapes, identifying if any of the escaped species are ill in any way that will affect wild fish populations, trying to track the location of escaped fish and mitigate the effects on the surrounding ecosystems.

6. Regular inspections: Infrastructure eventually breaks down. It’s inevitable. It is how a site manager handles these events that can make the difference between an escape event or not. Continuous inspections are a very important, if not the most important, aspect to preventing escapes on a fish farm. Even if a net is close to breaking point, but is not yet there, knowing that the net has become weak and needs to be improved or replaced is an important factor that could prevent a potential escape. By checking the underwater infrastructure on a daily basis, farm managers are demonstrating their commitment to ensuring that the integrity of their site is in the best shape possible. In this suggestion, the use of mini-ROVs can be highly advantageous on an aquaculture site. With the ability to deploy a unit in less than 3 minutes to inspect the underwater infrastructure of a site the employees on a farm can identify any problems with nets or mooring almost as soon as they happen, significantly reducing the risk of a problem escalating and leading to an escape.

The easiest and what we feel to be one of the most important aspects of preventing farmed fish escapes is the regular inspection of infrastructure to ensure that operations are running smoothly every day. A farm’s infrastructure integrity is of major importance in the aquaculture industry by preventing the loss of capital, profit and reducing the impacts on the environment. These six simple suggestions outline some of the key ways in which a farm can prevent the escape of its fish. Here at Deep Trekker we support sea stewardship as well as properly managed and regulated farming. That is why we are committed to learning as much as we can about the aquaculture industry and the challenges within it. These six suggestions have been compiled from a number of resources and research.

If you would like to learn more about aquaculture and the prevention of escapes take a look at the following links:

The Fish Site

Department of Fisheries and Oceans

The Scottish Association for Marine Science