Undercover video of Cooke salmon hatchery in Maine reveals animal welfare issues

The Maine Department of Agriculture is looking into a complaint that animal abuse occurred at the Cooke Aquaculture salmon hatchery in Bingham, Maine.

The complaint appears to have been submitted by the vegan activist group Compassion over Killing (COK), based in Washington D.C. The group released a video on Monday, 7 October showing incidents where employees at a salmon hatchery – the group claims it is Cooke’s Bingham hatchery – killing fish by slamming them against the ground and stomping on them.

“COK has submitted evidence to authorities and is urging prompt enforcement action,” the group said in an accompanying press release.

Maine Department of Agriculture spokesperson Jim Britt told SeafoodSource he could not comment further than saying an investigation was underway. 

"It's an ongoing investigation, and it doesn't have a timetable for resolution," he said.

A statement from Cooke Aquaculture said company officials were contacted by the Maine Department of Agriculture on 16 September and met with the department at the hatchery on 17 September to discuss a complaint. According to the company, the complaint included hidden camera video footage of fish handling at the company’s Bingham hatchery. 

“Until today, we had not been provided the opportunity to review the footage, nor do we know how it was obtained,” Cooke CEO Glenn Cooke said in a statement. “Based on information received from the department, and after reviewing the footage issued today by the activist veganism organization, it appears that unacceptable fish handling incidents have occurred at the Bingham hatchery. These are not our standards and will not continue. The Cooke family has been raising fish for over 35 years and we are not happy about this. We have already begun putting the necessary checks and balances in place to ensure this will not happen again.”

Cooke said his company is “working closely with the Maine Department of Agriculture to review and ensure all our practices are within compliance.”

“I am disappointed and deeply saddened by what I saw today. As a family company, we place animal welfare high in our operating standards and endeavor to raise our animals with optimal care and consideration of best practice. What we saw today is most certainly not reflective of these standards,” he said. “We are speaking with all our employees, and we will institute a rigorous re-training program at our Maine facility. This is one that we apply across all our global operations to enforce the importance of animal welfare.”

The COK video, nearly five minutes long, also showed some salmon at the hatcheries with physical deformities and others with open wounds. The group also said its investigation found fungus growing in the hatchery, including growth on live fish. The video ends with its narrator saying, “This is unfortunately the painful reality of farming fish for food.”

“Aquaculture is yet another cruel and exploitative factory farming system. It is not a solution to the overfishing of our oceans. The best way we can protect these animals – and our planet – is to leave fish off our plates,” the narrator says.

In response, Cooke said his company respects “anyone’s dietary choices, whether that diet includes seafood, meat, milk, and eggs or not.”

“We understand that animal health and welfare are an important piece of raising animals and are in position to manage those pieces effectively. As a company, we place animal welfare high in our operating standards and endeavor to raise our animals with optimal care and consideration of best practices. We regularly validate our internal best practices through regulatory compliance and voluntary third-party audits of our operations. In additional to a rigorous global employee training and operational standards training program, we encourage employees to speak up when they have any questions or concerns, or if they feel that practices are not being adhered to,” he said. “Our family, company and our employees take animal welfare seriously. We have policies and protocols in place and work very hard to ensure our team is well-trained and we are compliant with the rigorous standards that are set. We are immediately updating our facilities Health Management Plan and enhancing procedures and training for handling protocols. Our commitment to the health and care of our animals is nearly unequaled, matched only by our commitment to the highest quality, safest and most affordable farm-raised seafood products available anywhere in the world.” 

Photo courtesy of Compassion over Killing


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