Domesticated escapees on the run: the second-generation monitoring programme reports the numbers and proportions of farmed Atlantic salmon in >200 Norwegian rivers annually
Norway is the world’s largest producer of farmed Atlantic salmon and is home to ∼400 rivers containing wild salmon populations. Farmed escapees, a reoccurring challenge of all cage-based marine aquaculture, pose a threat to the genetic integrity, productivity, and evolutionary trajectories of wild populations. Escapees have been monitored in Norwegian rivers since 1989, and, a second-generation programme was established in 2014. The new programme includes data from summer angling, autumn angling, broodstock sampling, and snorkelling surveys in >200 rivers, and >25 000 scale samples are analysed annually. In 2014–2017, escapees were observed in two-thirds of rivers surveyed each year, and between 15 and 30 of the rivers had >10% recorded escapees annually. In the period 1989–2017, a reduction in the proportion of escapees in rivers was observed, despite a >6-fold increase in aquaculture production. This reflected improved escape prevention, and possibly changes in production methods that influence post-escape behaviour. On average, populations estimated to experience the greatest genetic introgression from farmed salmon up to 2014 also had the largest proportions of escapees in 2014–2017. Thus, populations already most affected are those at greatest risk of further impacts. These data feed into the annual risk-assessment of Norwegian aquaculture and form the basis for directing mitigation efforts.