Following an order from the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries, Gadus Group has carried out a fish count which has confirmed that around 87,000 farmed cod escaped from three cages at its Voldsfjorden site in Møre og Romsdal, western Norway. The company had reported an escape on September 26. The Directorate of Fisheries, which, in addition to inspecting the company after the incident, was also present during the count last week, has opened an oversight dossier and will continue to pursue the case.
In conversation with WeAreAquaculture, Ola Kvalheim, CEO and co-founder of Gadus Group explained that "it was an isolated event with faulty design of 1 batch of 5 brand new nets, representing a small share of all our nets. This batch has now been replaced and we have found the cause and remedied it". The company, which earlier this month announced the achievement of its first batch of farmed cod, is the world's largest cod farmer, with 7 operating facilities along the Norwegian coast.
"In order to increase the knowledge base related to the environmental consequences of cod escapes, the Directorate of Fisheries collaborates with the Institute of Marine Research on data collection after the incident", said the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries. "We have started a test fishery in the area and collected samples from the facility", they added. According to it statement, the escaped fish have an average weight of about 600 grams.
As of December 7, the company had been able to recover 408 of those 87,000 cod, although the Directorate of Fisheries has also received several tips from recreational fishermen who have caught farmed cod in the fjord. In fact, the Directorate assures that the tips will be of great help for their assessment of the extent and spread of the escaped cod and encourages anyone who finds or catches any to report them through this form.
One of the most important concerns resulting from this escape is how contact with farmed fish may affect wild cod populations. The main fear is that farmed cod will breed together with wild fish, as cod living in cages are less well-equipped to survive in the wild and if they were to mix, the wild population could be weakened.
One of the groups that has shown concern about this has been the Norwegian Nature Conservancy, which, after hearing the news of the escapes, has issued a series of demands. "The Nature Conservancy now demands that all cod that the Gadus Group has in the cages in the Volda and elsewhere must be removed from the sea immediately, and that all applications for cod in cages that have not reached the point where there is cod in the sea must be put on hold wait until the problem that has now come to light has been settled, decided upon and solved", they have said.