Missing: 50,000 Salmon

Missing: 50,000 Salmon
There he goes. (Photo: Jeff J. Mitchell, Getty Images)

A leak in Tasmania is sparking fears of pollution. But it’s not an oil, gas, or chemicals; what leaked is at least 50,000 fish. Farmed salmon, to be exact.

On Monday, an electrical fire mysteriously broke out at a commercial fish farm owned by a company called Huon Aquaculture in the southern part of the country. It melted through part of an aquaculture enclosure, and the fish — which at some 4 kilograms each, are pretty big — inside it escaped.

In a Facebook post, the company called the incident a “joyful experience for local fishers,” many of whom took to the waterways to get their fill once they heard the news, especially because these big fish can go for $140 a pop. Seals, which are native to the region, are also feasting on the escapees. Reminds me a little of that Tao Lin poem.

But while this bizarre mishap worked out well for some, environmentalists are concerned about its potential environmental impacts. They say the salmon may throw off local ecosystems by competing with other animals for prey, and that the effects could be last for the long term if the fish start reproducing.

“Huon Aquaculture’s spin is intended to make this environmental pollution spill look like nothing more than a boon to fishers and seals,” Peter George, the president of the community organisation Neighbours of Fish Farming, told the Guardian. “It’s like claiming a sewage spill is all good because it releases nutrients into the food chain.”

Experts say the damages likely won’t be earth shattering, but the community organisation said officials should round them up. The concern is particularly acute because Tasmania’s unique ecosystems are home to animals found no place else on Earth. The nation’s government has warned that invasive species generally pose “a significant threat to Tasmania’s biodiversity, agriculture, community or economy.” The government has outlined four major invasive aquatic species, and while the salmon are unlikely to join their ranks, there’s no harm in taking every available precaution.

Luckily, those precautions could work out pretty well for fishers, too. At the Huon River where the outbreak took place, for instance, fishers are only permitted to take 12 fish at a time, but Neighbours of Fish Farming is pushing for those restrictions to be temporarily lifted. Happy holidays, we’re having salmon. And if you need a recipe, may I recommend this one?