Cornucopia’s Take: Farmed fish now account for most of the seafood humans eat, and escaped fish are inevitable. This is particularly alarming in light of GMO salmon and scientists’ general concerns about the spread of diseases and the weakening wild fish populations through interbreeding.
Fish escapes from marine farms raise concerns about wildlife
by Roberta Kwok
Scientists worry that the runaways could harm native species
Source: Feline Groovy
On the dock in Buenaventura, Colombia, the fisherman needed help identifying his catch. “I don’t have any clue what this is,” he said, holding a roughly 50-centimeter-long, grayish-brown fish. Gustavo Castellanos-Galindo, a fish ecologist, recalls the conversation from last October. “I said, ‘Well, this is a cobia, and it shouldn’t be here.’ ”
The juvenile cobia had probably escaped from a farm off the coast of Ecuador that began operating earlier in 2015, Castellanos-Galindo and colleagues at the World Wildlife Fund in Cali, Colombia, reported in March in BioInvasions Records. Intruders had probably cut a net cage, perhaps intending to catch and sell the fish. Roughly 1,500 cobia fled, according to the aquaculture company Ocean Farm in Manta, Ecuador, which runs the farm. Cobia are fast-swimming predators that can migrate long distances and grow to about 2 meters long. The species is not native to the eastern Pacific, but since the escape, the fugitives have been spotted from Panama to Peru.
The cobia getaway is not an isolated incident. Aquaculture, the farming of fish and other aquatic species, is rapidly expanding — both in marine and inland farms. It has begun to overtake wild-catch fishing as the main source of seafood for the dinner table. Fish farmed in the ocean, such as salmon, sea bass, sea bream and other species, are raised in giant offshore pens that can be breached by storms, predators, fish that nibble the nets, employee error and thieves. Global numbers for escapes are hard to come by, but one study of six European countries over three years found that nearly 9 million fish escaped from sea cages, according to a report published in Aquaculture in 2015.