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B.C. salmon farm breach could threaten native stocks

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(Read caption) A salmon farm in British Columbia, Canada. At a different farm, tens of thousands of salmon escaped into the wild. Experts say that the escaped salmon, which are not native to the Pacific, will put already depleted native stocks at risk.

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Some 30,000 Atlantic salmon escaped from a fish farm off the coast of British Columbia, Canada, where they are thought to pose a threat to already depleted populations of wild Pacific salmon.

Last Wednesday, strong ocean currents shifted an anchor on one of 12 pens in a salmon farm near B.C.'s Campbell River, causing the anchor to fall into a crevice. The anchor pulled down a net with it, creating an opening through which the salmon escaped.

The Norwegian seafood giant, Marine Harvest, which owns the farm, says the escaped fish pose no danger to native stocks. The Canadian broadcaster CBC quotes Clare Backman, the company's director of environmental compliance and community relations, who says that the fish are healthy:

"There's no ability for these fish to spread anything to the wild salmon. First of all, they are quite healthy. They haven't needed any antibiotics. They haven't contracted any diseases at all. They are perfectly healthy fish that were scheduled to go to market within the next two to six months," Backman said.

But others aren't so sure. The Globe and Mail, a Canadian national daily, quotes Jennifer Lash, the executive director of the Living Oceans Society, a nonprofit that calls for an end to open-net cage salmon farms. Ms. Lash says that if the Atlantic salmon breed, they will compete with wild salmon, whose populations have plummeted in recent years.

"You get juvenile Atlantics, they're not indigenous to the [Pacific] coast and they start competing with the wild salmon and they start putting the wild salmon at risk. Everything has to be done to stop having those Atlantic salmon in the ocean," she said. "Any time you bring in an invasive species or a non-indigenous species ... it poses a threat to the existing biological diversity."
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