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1 Dead, 3 Rescued After Boat Crashes into Cooke Salmon Net Pen in Port Angeles, Washington

AquacultureAn Everett man is dead and three others were injured after a 20-foot boat they were operating crashed into an unlit pen net in Port Angeles, Washington on the evening of July 30, 2019. Two adults and one 14-year-old boy from Snohomish County were also in the boat, but survived the dramatic crash. According to reports, the pen nets involved with the crash were owned by Cooke Aquaculture.

A U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Port Angeles MH-65 rescue helicopter crew was in the area performing a training exercise when they saw a person on the boat attempting CPR to an unresponsive passenger. The aircrew lowered a rescue swimmer who swam to the platform on the fishing pier to assist with CPR.

It was reported that a U.S. Coast Guard Station Port Angeles 45-foot Response Boat-Medium crew embarked all four boaters and took them to emergency medical personnel who were waiting at the pier at Station Port Angeles. The Everett man, Robert R. Elliott, age 62, was declared dead at the scene.

Cooke Aquaculture has been plagued by numerous issues and was required to shut down the Ediz Hook pen net facility in Port Angeles after their lease was terminated by the State Department of Natural Resources in 2017 on the grounds that it posed a public and environmental risk. The Washington State Legislature voted to phase out Atlantic salmon farming from all state waters after several incidents, including a pen net breach that released tens of thousands of Atlantic farm-raised salmon into Samish Bay.  Atlantic salmon are a non-native salmon, classified as a pollutant by the state Department of Ecology.

In another incident in 2012, the Associate Press reported that Bainbridge Island net pens experienced an outbreak of Infectious Hematopoietic Necrosis Virus (IHNV), which killed hundreds of thousands of Atlantic salmon. Crowded conditions allowed the virus to quickly spread.

Cooke Aquaculture is trying to sue the State of Washington over the cancellation of the lease, and has indicated they plan to raise steelhead salmon rather than Atlantic salmon in the current pens.

Many Port Angeles residents, including local officials, have complained about the lack of lighting around the pens. The pens present an extreme danger at night, when boaters returning to shore cannot see the pens. This tragic collision occurred at 9:45 p.m. on Tuesday evening; sunset occurred at 8:52 p.m. Locals have long considered these pen nets to be a hazard to boaters and commercial vessels.

It was reported that the boat sank after the collision. The U.S. Coast Guard and local police are working to retrieve the sunken vessel, and an investigation is ongoing by the Clallam County Marine Unit as well as the Port Angeles Police Department. “We need to examine it [the vessel] as part of the investigation of the wreck and the death, and also for the environmental concern,” said Port Angeles Deputy Chief of Police Jason Viada.