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Grieg postpones first stocking in Newfoundland as precaution against ISA

Grieg's hatchery and smolt facility in Marystown, NL, Atlantic Canada. Photo: Grieg.
Grieg's hatchery and smolt facility in Marystown, NL, Atlantic Canada. Photo: Grieg.

Norwegian salmon farmer Grieg has postponed the first transfer of fish to sea in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, Canada until spring 2022 as a precautionary measure after a fish at its Marystown smolt facility provided a suspect detection of infectious salmon anaemia (ISA) during the summer.

In a statement last night, Grieg Seafood Newfoundland –  which is using triploid salmon hatched from ova supplied by Benchmark Genetics in Iceland – said that over the last weeks, 295 additional samples have been collected and analysed by Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) province’s veterinary authorities. All samples have provided negative results and no ISA was detected.

“While it would be possible to transfer the fish to sea under restrictions, Grieg Seafood Newfoundland has decided to apply the precautionary approach and not transfer fish to sea,” stated Grieg.

“Placentia Bay is a promising area for salmon farming with no known history of ISA. Grieg Seafood Newfoundland will not risk introducing the virus into the environment. The company has stated all along that the farming region will be developed gradually and responsibly, to optimise biological conditions and to ensure sustainable operations.”

Almost 1m fish to be culled

As a result of the decision, almost 1 million juvenile fish scheduled for sea transfer this summer will be culled.

“All of these fish are in the same RAS system as the one fish with the detection, and the company would not have been able to maintain its fish health and welfare standard in sea should the virus exist in this fish group,” said Grieg.

“A thorough review is initiated to find out why an ISA detection occurred, and measures will subsequently be put in place to avoid similar occurrences in the future.”

Minor financial hit 

The company said the financial impact would be minor, as the first group had fewer fish than regular operations will because of its phased approach.  

“Generating knowledge about farming salmon in the new fresh-water facility and the Placentia Bay area is a key priority before scaling up. Improvements for the fresh-water phase are identified after the first group and implemented for the next generation.”

During the spring and summer of 2022, around 3 million fish are planned to be transferred to sea, in accordance with the original schedule. These eggs and fish are currently growing well in a separate building in the Marystown facility, said Grieg. The fish will be harvested in 2023 and 2024.

Grieg NL’s 2025 harvesting target of 15,000 tonnes remains unchanged.

Knut Skeidsvoll:
Knut Skeidsvoll: "It is right to apply the precautionary approach in this situation".

Not taking the risk

Grieg Seafood Newfoundland managing director Knut Skeidsvoll said: “We have said from the beginning that we will develop our farming operations in Placentia Bay gradually, responsibly and sustainably. As such, we believe it is right to apply the precautionary approach in this situation and postpone the transfer to sea to the spring of 2022. Even though none of the additional 295 samples detected any virus, we do not want to risk introducing ISA into the environment and possibly farm fish in the sea without optimal conditions for fish health and welfare.

“Our plans and vision beyond this first group of fish have not changed, and we are using the experience gained to improve for the next generation. We are confident that we will be able to build a strong farming region in Newfoundland during the next years and create jobs and value for the local communities here.

“I want to thank the provincial government and veterinary authorities for their continued cooperation.”

45,000-tonne potential

Grieg has exclusive use of Placentia Bay for salmon farming, and as of September last year had been granted eight licences corresponding to a total capacity of 30,000 tonnes. A further three licences were in different stages of application.

Farming activities in the Newfoundland region are expected to have a long-term annual harvest potential of 30,000-45,000 tonnes.

Success in the province is a key building block of Grieg’s future. It is quitting Scotland after struggling with biology and the logistics of running farms in both Shetland and Skye and is concentrating its resources on Norway and Pacific and Atlantic Canada. However, a huge question mark hangs over the salmon farming industry in British Columbia, where Canada’s ruling Liberal Party has pledged to “transition” net-pen farming towards as-yet undefined different methods of raising salmon.

Federal government fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan has ordered the closure of 19 farms, including Grieg’s, in the Discovery Islands by the end of June next year.