Cooke Aquaculture has issued an apology and says it’s taking immediate action after the release of undercover video footage Monday by an animal rights group that appears to show workers mishandling salmon at the company’s hatchery in Bingham.
The footage released by the group Compassion Over Killing in an edited video allegedly shows workers at the facility slamming, stomping and throwing fish long distances into tanks. Unnamed workers also describe some salmon being punctured while being vaccinated, and others being thrown away into buckets and left to die. It also shows some fish that appear to have fungus on them.
Mike Wolf, the director of investigations for the group, says that the undercover footage was gathered over a period of about two months and was included in a complaint filed with state regulators.
“I think it’s also just incredibly important for the public to see this, have the knowledge, and make informed decisions about what they’re putting in their body,” Wolf says.
In a written statement, Cooke Aquaculture Inc. CEO Glenn Cooke says that he was “disappointed and deeply saddened” by the video, and that it does not reflect the company’s goals for how it treats animals.
Cooke says that the company met with the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry last month to discuss the complaint and is working with the state to ensure it meets standards. He also says the company will be speaking with employees and conducting a “rigorous re-training” program at its Maine facility.
“The Cooke family has been raising fish for over 35 years and we are not happy about this,” Cooke says. “We have already begun putting the necessary checks and balances in place to ensure this will not happen again.”
Sebastian Belle, the executive director of the Maine Aquaculture Association, writes in a statement that if accurate, the behavior in the video by employees is “disturbing, unacceptable, and does not represent standard operating practices in Maine, in Cooke Aquaculture or more broadly throughout the entire aquaculture sector in the United states.”
Belle says that animal care and ethics are taken seriously by his organization.
“As part of our continued efforts to assist members in developing innovative and sustainable farming methods, and considering this recent event, we are going to re-examine our Code of Conduct and recommendations for best management practices,” Belle says in the statement. “As part of that process, we will be consulting with experts in the veterinary and animal husbandry professions to help us provide the best possible recommendations to our members.”
A spokesman for the Maine Department of Agriculture says the department has received the complaint and is investigating, but it's unable to offer more comment as the investigation is still ongoing.
Compassion Over Killing has conducted similar investigations into farms and slaughterhouses in the past but says this is its first investigation into an aquaculture facility.