A breach in a net pen was initially blamed on high tides and the eclipse. However, in a revised press release, Cooke Aquaculture no longer listed the eclipse as a possible cause, but rather “Exceptionally high tides and currents caused damage to a salmon farm that has been in operation near Cypress Island for approximately 30 years.”
Whatever the cause of the Atlantic salmon spill on Cyprus Island, aquaculture operations have been put on hold in the Pacific Northwest after a moratorium was placed on new and pending permits for fish farming in Washington State. Governor Jay Inslee and Hilary Franz, Commissioner of Public Lands, jointly imposed the freeze on permits after the Cooke Aquaculture Pacific net pen breech occurred on August 19th.
Cooke leases public bedlands from the Department of Natural Resources, and is now in violation of that lease agreement. In order for Canadian based Cooke Aquaculture Pacific to be “in compliance” with the terms of their lease, they must clean up and manage pen failures at the Cypress Island facility said Cori Simmons, head of communications for the Department of Natural Resources.
Over the weekend, the company sent divers with vacuum hoses to capture fish still in the breached net pens. Approximately 121,766 of the 305,000 fish, some dead, some still alive, have been captured. Company employees opened some of the fish to determine what was in their stomachs. Most were empty, and anglers expressed frustration in trying to catch the salmon, as they are accustomed to eating pellet food. Anglers who do catch Atlantic salmon are urged to report their catches at WDFW. While there is no size or catch limit on Atlantic salmon, the agency is working to keep track of how many fish have been caught.
The Lummi Nation has declared a state of emergency. Tribal members have caught more than 200,000 pounds (roughly 20,000 ) of the non-native salmon, classified as a pollutant by the state Department of Ecology. Concerns are that the Atlantic salmon will compete with wild fish on spawning grounds, carry potential diseases, and tend to be more aggressive than native species.
“These fish don’t belong here in our waters, and I’ll do what I can to get rid of them,” said Lummi fisherman Dana Wilson. “With all the mopping up I’ve been doing over the weekend, I can now add ‘janitor’ to my résumé.”
Tom Wooten, Tribal Chairman for the Samish Indian Nation, in a statement released Friday said the tribe “is beyond disappointed” at the spill. “We are concerned their sudden and mass presence will create a shortage of forage fish for native salmon,” Wooten said of the Atlantic salmon. “Additionally, there’s a risk the Atlantic salmon will eat the young fingerling salmon.”
Swinomish tribal chairman Brian Cladoosby called for a shutdown of the open-water net pen farmed salmon industry in the Puget Sound.
Seattle chef Tom Douglas is also concerned about the spill, and called for better fish farm regulations. “We have worked on double hulls for oil tankers, and on ways to make our waters cleaner and safer, it is time to have better state government oversight on farming fish and doing it in a way that doesn’t severely impact our wild runs.”
Douglas will not serve farmed salmon in any of his restaurants because of his concern for effects on wild fish, and the need to build a strong market for wild fish.
“You have to eat wild to save wild,” Douglas said. “We believe in wild fish. There are a lot of issues around farmed salmon, everything from antibiotic use to fecal matter coming out so intensely from under these pens to sea lice attacking wild fish coming out of the rivers.”
We will continue to follow this story and report on new policies and regulations in the aquaculture industry.