02/24/2017 11:16 EST | Updated 02/25/2018 00:12 EST

N.S. launches probe after massive winter storm damages fish farm, frees salmon

SHELBURNE, N.S. — Nova Scotia fisheries officials are investigating after a winter storm damaged an aquaculture pen in Shelburne Harbour, apparently releasing some salmon.

Fisheries Minister Keith Colwell said the fish farm is owned by New Brunswick-based Cooke Aquaculture, which reported the damage last Wednesday after a massive storm.

It's believed some salmon were released from the damaged pen, but it's not known at this point how many escaped, he said.

"What (Cooke) say happened and we've checked it out and confirmed that's the case, was that it was storm damage to one of its nets, which is quite unusual," said Colwell.

He said the company harvested all the fish from the pen and may have a better idea of how many are missing once that's completed.

Cooke Aquaculture spokeswoman Nell Halse said the pen is part of the company's farming operation off McNutts Island just outside Shelburne Harbour.

Halse said one of the connectors to the mooring system failed in the storm, causing a "small possible break" to one of the net pens.

She said the company is trying to determine if any of the thousands of fish were lost as a result.

"I understand that there are two reports that somebody had found a salmon in the neighbourhood," Halse said.

She said fish are often moved from one pen to another as they grow and that was the case with the pen that was damaged.

"We are not going to be able to give anyone an exact number of the fish that are still on the farm until the whole farm is harvested.

Halse noted that could take some time depending on consumer demand for the company's product.

"But they did that one net pen right away just to make sure that there were no other loses," she said.

Colwell said conservation officers from the Environment Department are also following up to ensure the company didn't break any regulations.

He said it's not known yet when the results of the investigation will be available.

"I haven't got the final report back from our staff. I know they have been out at the site and so have environment (investigators)."