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AQUA-TORTURE: Fish farm accused of animal cruelty after 800,000 salmon die

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There was a time when people thought of fish as these alien creatures that don't feel pain. But that's not true. Fish feel pain like humans feel pain. They have logic, they can make decisions, they can fear and remember pain.

JOSHUA CEBALLOS: After 800,000 salmon died at a Homestead fish farm, animal activists are asking that government officials investigate the farm for animal cruelty and file criminal charges against the company’s CEO. Atlantic Sapphire is a Norwegian industrial fish-farming company with operations in Denmark and Homestead that bills itself as the “largest global onshore aquaculture company in the world”…

Atlantic Sapphire raises fish in indoor tanks in what the company calls its “Bluehouse” at the Homestead facility — kind of like a greenhouse but for fish, where the salmon swim in purified water with artificial currents until they’re mature enough to “harvest”… But a series of mass mortality events at the Bluehouse over the past year has led a nonprofit group to question how safely the fish are actually kept.

In an April 21 letter addressed to two state agencies that oversee farming and animal-cruelty complaints, animal-rights advocates from the nonprofit organization Animal Outlook outlined a series of incidents at Atlantic Sapphire’s Homestead facility wherein a total of 800,000 salmon died prematurely and, according to the advocates, were subjected to unnecessary cruelty by the company…

Last July, while construction was still underway at Atlantic Sapphire’s Homestead facility, the company stocked one of its tanks with young salmon. The salmon, situated amid the cacophony of sounds and vibrations from the ongoing construction, were subjected to too much stress, according to a subsequent company press release.

Some research suggests that noise pollution from sources like construction sites can cause adverse health effects in fish, including hearing loss, tissue damage, bleeding, and in some cases, death… In total, 200,000 salmon were prematurely removed from the tank and euthanized. Many were then processed for fish food because they weren’t large enough to be sold.

Eight months later, on March 23 of this year, another incident at Atlantic Sapphire’s Homestead farm led to the premature death of 600,000 salmon. Atlantic Sapphire attributes that incident to a design failure in the company’s tanks… The company had known about the design flaw and had begun to address it but could not complete the upgrade to its tanks in time to save a large number of salmon… The company reported losing about 600,000 fish because of the design flaw, calling the incident a “mass mortality event”…

Animal Outlook has a history of undercover investigations into cruel conditions at industrial “factory farms” and legal advocacy on behalf of animals farmed for food production, including fish raised at aquaculture facilities in states other than Florida… The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Animal Outlook alleges that the incidents at Atlantic Sapphire violated Florida’s animal-cruelty laws…

“In only the past nine months, Atlantic Sapphire’s failure to take actions it knew were essential to provide for the proper care of the animals confined at its facility has led to the suffering and death of 800,000 salmon in two separate ‘mass mortality events,'” wrote Animal Outlook attorney Will Lowrey. “In doing so, Atlantic Sapphire has flouted Florida’s [Best Management Practices] and animal-cruelty law, which plainly cover this type of cruelty.”

Under Florida’s animal-cruelty statute, a person or corporation that “overloads, overdrives, torments,” or unnecessarily mutilates any animal in a cruel or inhumane manner has committed a first-degree misdemeanor and is subject to fines or possible jail time. The statute defines torture, torment, and cruelty to include any act, omission, or neglect that causes unnecessary or unjustifiable pain or suffering to an animal.

Lowrey alleges that Atlantic Sapphire subjected its salmon to needless suffering in both mass-mortality incidents by holding them in tanks that were not completed and that suffered from design flaws the company was previously aware of. “Fish are sensitive animals,” Lowrey tells New Times. “There was a time when people thought of fish as these alien creatures that don’t feel pain. But that’s not true. Fish feel pain like humans feel pain. They have logic, they can make decisions, they can fear and remember pain.”

Lowrey and Animal Outlook also contend that Atlantic Sapphire violated the FDACS’ established best practices for fish farming (also known as aquaculture), which require that fish farmers keep their fish in favorable growing environments by minimizing stress. The FDACS is the agency responsible for licensing aquaculture facilities like Atlantic Sapphire’s in Florida…

Animal Outlook wants the State Attorney’s Office and the FDACS to investigate Atlantic Sapphire and revoke its certification to operate in an aquaculture facility. The nonprofit’s letter also calls for criminal charges against Atlantic Sapphire’s CEO, Johan Andreassen, for 800,000 separate violations of the animal-cruelty statute, which allows people who commit multiple acts of cruelty to be charged separately for each animal.

“This is beyond, ‘Hey, we’ll do better.’ These are criminal acts under the law. These are clear violations — not just a handful, but 800,000 individual violations of the law. We’re now in the realm of criminal punishment, whether that’s fines or imprisonment”…. “Animals used in aquaculture, such as the salmon at Atlantic Sapphire, are not exempted from Florida’s animal-cruelty law. In addition to conversations with FDACS, we are actively exploring other legal avenues,” Lowrey says. SOURCE…

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