Washington state won't issue new permits for open-net fish farms after huge escape of Atlantic salmon

    1 of 4 2 of 4

      The governor of Washington state says the August 21 escape of a large number of Atlantic salmon  near the San Juan Islands has "created an emergency situation".

      Jay Inslee said a "command structure" has been formed to respond to the incident at the Cooke Aquaculture facility near Cypress Island southwest of Bellingham.

      “I have directed the Department of Ecology to put a hold on any new permits for net pens until a thorough investigation of this incident is completed," Inslee said in a statement. "Tribes and others who fish Washington waters deserve a comprehensive response to this incident, including answers to what happened and assurances that it won’t happen again.

      "I believe the company must do everything it can to stop any additional escapes and to recover as many fish as possible, including [roviding] adequate compensation for those working to remove Atlantic salmon from our waters,” the governor added.

      Gov. Jay Inslee says no new permits will be granted to open-net fish farms while an investigation is underway.

      Cooke Aquaculture is hoping to develop a new net-pen fish farm in Port Angeles, which is across Juan de Fuca Strait from Victoria, B.C.

      The company has backed off an earlier claim that the rupture of the 30-year-old facility's net pens was linked to a recent solar eclipse.

      In its most recent statement, it attributed the escape of "several thousand Atlantic salmon" to exceptionally high tides and currents.

      "It appears that many fish are still contained within the nets," Cooke Aquaculture said. "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 open-net pens held 305,000 Atlantic salmon before they ruptured.

      The Cooke Aquaculture facility is near Cypress Island.

      Meanwhile, Wild Fish Conservancy has announced that it will sue the company for alleged violations of the Clean Water Act. And the environmental group disputes claims that the tides were unusual.

      In a news release, Wild Fish Conservancy insisted that data "suggest that tidal fluctuations were well within normal and predictable levels, and that Cypress Island had experienced higher tides during every month of the year prior to those experienced" on the day of the solar eclipse.

      Atlantic salmon are considered an invasive species in the waters off Washington and B.C.

      Each of the escaped Atlantic salmon weighs about 10 pounds and people are being encouraged to catch as many as possible.

      "The escapement of Atlantic salmon poses threats of competition to native juvenile and adult salmon and steelhead," Wild Fish Conservancy fisheries scientist Nick Gayeski said in the news release. "The escaped fish still need to feed and thus are likely to compete with native juvenile Pacific salmon and steelhead, including preying on them."

      He added that these Atlantic salmon are capable of entering Puget Sound rivers and attempting to spawn, which this species traditionally does in autumn.

      "Whether the escaped fish succeed in producing offspring or not, they will compete on the spawning grounds with native salmon, including endangered Puget Sound chinook, posiing a threat to the spawning success of native salmon," Gayeski said.

      On August 24, fish-farm critic Alexandra Morton posted a disturbing video on YouTube shining a light on what happens at B.C. fish-farming operations.

      It was shot by hereditary chief George Quocksister Jr. with the support of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. You can see it below.

      Hereditary chief George Quocksister Jr. shot this video.
      Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.