Estimated 165,000 Atlantic salmon escaped from net pens

A harvest hunt continues for an estimated 20,000 Atlantic salmon, the last of upwards of 165,000 of these farmed fish estimated to have escaped due to failure of a net pen owned by Cook Aquaculture in the San Juan Islands.

The net pen had held 305,000 Atlantic salmon.

In a situation update issued on Sept. 4 by Washington State’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, the joint agency team said that Cooke Aquaculture crews were continuing to deconstruct damaged net pen array two. Outside walkways were removed from two of the pens, as well as one half and one full outrigger. Cook Aquaculture is a subsidiary of the Cooke family of companies in Canada that owns Icicle Seafoods.

All 10 stock nets have now been removed and all fish left on site have been recovered, the joint agency team said. Structures removed from the wreckage are being staged for lifting by the crane barge. All ropes and netting must be removed and the pieces split into 40-foot lengths.

Water quality samples have been conducted daily and have shown no adverse effects. Sampling results are being provided daily to the Unified Command.

Meanwhile an investigation continues into how the net pen break occurred.

The number of fish recovered from the damaged farm site is 145,101, with recovered fish still being counted.

Structures removed from the wreckage are being staged for lifting by the crane barge. All rope and netting must be removed and the pieces split into 40-foot lengths, the report said.

Water quality samples are being conducted daily and show no adverse effects. The Unified Incident Command is conducting the tests.

Tribal, commercial and recreational fisheries are continuing recapture fish that escaped the enclosure, while Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is collecting data on those catches.

The Wild Fish Conservatory Northwest, with offices in Duvall, Wash., has served a 60-day notice of its intent to file a citizen suit against Cooke Aquaculture under the Clean Water Act. The Conservancy advocates for socially responsible and scientifically credible wild fish conservation.

The structural integrity of the Cypress Island net pen is reported to have displayed degradation resulting in unlawful discharge as early as Aug. 19, a full two days prior to the solar eclipse event, which Cooke Aquaculture initially said contributed to failure of the net pen, the conservatory said.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game meanwhile has asked sport anglers and commercial fishermen to report the harvest of any Atlantic salmon.

Those catching Atlantic salmon are asked not to clean it. Instead they are asked to keep the fish whole, take a photo of the fish, note the location where it was when caught, try a GPS location if possible and visit the department’s webpage.

ADF&G notes that the presence of Atlantic salmon in Alaska waters is biologically undesirable, that they could potentially compete with native salmon and trout for spawning and rearing habitat and/or introduce pathogens. The escaped salmon had been treated to prevent disease transmission.