Genetically modified Atlantic salmon can breed with wild fish

Jul 26, 2011

A new study of genetically-modified Atlantic salmon shows they can breed with their wild counterparts. Critics worry escaped farmed fish could weaken wild stocks.

Memorial University of Newfoundland researcher Darek Moreau worked with what are called transgenic Atlantic salmon. Those have an added gene that speeds their growth.

Moreau says researchers exposed those modified males to wild salmon in a laboratory simulation of natural spawning conditions.

"We found the transgenics had a much reduced breeding performance but they did, in fact, show an interest in breeding and the ability to breed," Moreau says.

The research was published in the scientific journal Evolutionary Applications. Moreau says the study should raise concerns about the possible release of modified salmon through accidents at fish farms.

Must be quarantined

Alexandra Morton is a marine biologist in British Columbia and a leading critic of fish farming's impacts on wild salmon runs.

"When you start modifying a creature genetically, you enter a whole new realm," Morton says. "You have no idea where you're going. These things absolutely belong in a quarantined situation in a concrete tank on land."

She and other scientists say modified salmon, like their unaltered cousins, cannot breed with their Pacific species. But she says they could spread disease and parasites to wild Pacific stock.

Copyright 2011 CoastAlaska