Some 790,000 salmon and trout escaped from Norwegian fish farms last year, up 10 percent on the previous year and a trend that poses a serious threat to wild salmon, the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries said on Friday. The lax security at fish farms is "a criminal act that must be sanctioned the same as a hold-up or a rape," the head of the directorate, Peter Gullestad, told AFP.

The fish raised on farms are carriers of parasites such as sea lice, which infect wild salmon and other maritime life.

The fish that escape the farms, located in fjords and rivers along Norway's west coast, infect young wild salmon before they head off to the open sea, threatening their immune systems which are not yet fully developed.

"It's dramatic. We're talking about a genetic cleansing of wild salmon," said Espen Farstad, a spokesman for the Norwegian hunting and fishing association NJFF.

Despite the July 2006 creation of a special commission at the Norwegian fisheries ministry aimed at limiting escapes from fish farms, security has not improved at the farms.

A total of 39 of 75 fish farms inspected by the directorate did not meet current standards.

"The farmers do not have control over the situation. Authorities' controls are not sufficient. We are calling for a list of the fish farms at fault and for them to be boycotted," Maren Esmark of the Norwegian branch of the environmental group WWF told AFP.