Escape prevention

Preventing farmed fish from escaping and interacting with wild fish populations is a priority for the aquaculture industry, governments at all levels, commercial and recreational fishers, Indigenous Peoples, and environmental advocacy groups.

To minimize chances of escapes, finfish containment systems (such as net pens) must be able to withstand local weather and ocean conditions, including storms, water currents and other environmental factors. Systems are regularly inspected and maintained to ensure integrity and to control biofouling and ice build-up, inspect for marine mammal interactions or other factors that could contribute to failures of the containment system.

If breaches occur, licence holders must report escapes to the responsible regulatory authority. Provinces where finfish are cultivated in the marine environment have strict requirements for avoiding breaches in containment and/or reporting escapes. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) may also approve fishing to recapture escapees where it is warranted and effective.

Reporting escapes

Federal reporting of escapes is compiled from incident information submitted by licence holders to provincial authorities in all provinces, except in British Columbia, where escape events are reported directly to DFO. There are no marine net pens in Quebec or Prince Edward Island. Numbers provided are the best estimates possible as it is very difficult to determine exact numbers.

Reporting escapes

Avoiding breaches of containment, by province

Provinces where finfish are cultured in the marine environment have strict requirements for avoiding breaches of containment and/or reporting escapes if they occur.

British Columbia (BC)

In BC, where Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is the lead regulator, licence holders must report escapes to the department. DFO’s Pacific Aquaculture Regulations and Conditions of Licence for marine finfish aquaculture require licence holders to take various measures to prevent the escape of farmed fish into the ocean, including proper maintenance of cages and nets. When there is evidence that an escape event has occurred, licence holders must report the incident to the department within 24 hours detailing the cause, time and location of the event and the species, size and number of fish involved. The licence holder must also provide fish health information about the stock, such as exposure to therapeutants. A more detailed written report is then submitted to the department within seven days. DFO publishes detailed reports of marine finfish aquaculture escapes as they occur in British Columbia.

More info

The Atlantic Salmon Watch Program, established by DFO in 1991 to monitor for escaped Atlantic salmon in BC rivers, has been monitoring for escaped Atlantic salmon in BC rivers for more than two decades. To date, there is no evidence of established Atlantic salmon populations in the wild in BC.

New Brunswick (NB)

In NB, reporting requirements for escapes are specified under New Brunswick’s NB Regulations 91-158 General Regulation Aquaculture Act, 14.1(4)]. Additional information on containment can be found at New Brunswick’s Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries – Aquaculture.

Newfoundland and Labrador (NL)

In NL, escape reporting is managed through the Code of Containment, which is a condition of all salmonid aquaculture site licences in the province. The Code requires immediate reporting of escape incidents to both DFO and to the provincial Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agrifoods. In the event of an escape incident where there is reason to believe that 100 or more fish escaped from any one cage, the incident is deemed to be significant and the licence holder is required to start discussions with DFO within 24 hours of the incident to determine if recapture efforts should be initiated. The Province provides annual reporting on escapes and introductions and transfers.

Nova Scotia (NS)

In NS, reporting on escapes is addressed in the conditions of each individual aquaculture licence and is legally binding. Please consult Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture’s Aquaculture Licence webpage for more information.