Thousands of farmed Atlantic salmon were accidentally released into the waters between Anacortes and the San Juan Islands, and officials are asking people to catch as many as possible. Tribal fishers, concerned about native salmon populations, call the accident “a devastation.”
It’s open season on Atlantic salmon as the public is urged to help mop up a salmon spill from an imploded net holding 305,000 fish at a Cooke Aquaculture fish farm near Cypress Island.
Lummi fishers out for chinook on Sunday near Samish, south of Bellingham Bay, were shocked to pull up the spotted, silvery sided Atlantic salmon — escapees that turned up in their nets again on Monday.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is urging the public to catch as many of the fish as possible, with no limit on size or number. The fish are about 10 pounds each. No one knows yet how many escaped. But the net had some 3 million pounds of fish in it when it imploded about 4 p.m. Saturday, said Ron Warren, fish program assistant director for the WDFW.
The department has been monitoring the situation and crafting a spill-response plan with Cooke, Warren said.
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In a statement Tuesday morning, Cooke said “exceptionally high tides and currents coinciding with this week’s solar eclipse” caused the damage. Cooke estimates several thousand salmon escaped following “structural failure” of a net pen.
“It appears that many fish are still contained within the nets,” Cooke said in the statement. “It will not be possible to confirm exact numbers of fish losses until harvesting is completed and an inventory of fish in the pens has been conducted.”
The spill comes as the company is considering a controversial net-pen operation in the Strait of Juan de Fuca at Port Angeles, east of the Ediz Hook.
By Saturday afternoon, anchor lines to the pens broke, and walkways for servicing the pens tipped, making it unsafe for employees even to get in the water and assess the scope of the spill, Warren said.
The company’s explanation met with widespread disbelief.
“Part of the feed going to these salmon is chicken feed but this is B.S.,” said Chris Wilke, executive director of the Puget Sound Keeper, a nonprofit environmental group that opposes the company’s planned replacement and expansion of its existing operation.
“If they can’t be trusted in an accident like this how can…