In the strategy for an environmentally sustainable Norwegian aquaculture industry, one of the key environmental challenges is considered to be escaped fish. The challenge concerns issues of genetics, ecology and the risk of spreading disease. For the industry, escapees mean economic loss in addition to the negative impact on public perception. Efforts to prevent fish from escaping are given high priority, and both the industry and the authorities are working on a broad front to minimise losses caused by escapees.
Tools to minimize the numbers of escaped fish
Reducing the numbers of escaped fish to an absolute minimum is a common goal of the authorities and the aquaculture industry. The aim of the strategy is that aquaculture shall not result in permanent changes in the genetic characteristics of wild fish stocks. Initiatives in this area include the establishment of an Aquaculture Escape Commission, whose remit is to investigate the causes of fish escapes, gain experience and propose regulatory improvements. Furthermore, better management tools and operational and technical requirements made for the industry are equally important. The strengthening of inspection and control activities also constitutes a core element.
The number of salmonid escapees has shown a declining trend in recent years. However, there are indications that the actual escape figures are higher than those reported to the authorities. Therefore a high-priority, cross-sectoral initiative has been implemented to obtain more effect-oriented benchmarks for escapees. Using such benchmarks as indicators for sustainability can provide the basis for establishing limits of tolerance for the most important stocks of wild Atlantic salmon.