ANACORTES, Wash. -- The public is being asked to help mop up a salmon spill from an imploded net holding 305,000 fish at a Cooke Aquaculture fish farm near Cypress Island.
The company said the spill was caused by tides pushed unusually high by Monday's approaching total solar eclipse.
The Seattle Times reports Lummi fishers out for chinook on Sunday near Samish, south of Bellingham Bay, were surprised to pull up the Atlantic salmon — escapees that turned up in their nets again on Monday.
"It’s a devastation,” Ellie Kinley, whose family has fished Puget Sound for generations, told the Times. “We don’t want those fish preying on our baby salmon. And we don’t want them getting up in the rivers.”
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. About 305,000 salmon were in the net pen at the time, though the company initially estimated that only 4,000-5,000 fish have escaped, WDFW's Ron Warren said.
“Our first concern, of course, is to protect native fish species,” Warren said. “So we’d like to see as many of these escaped fish caught as possible.”
Warren said there is no evidence that these fish pose a threat to native fish populations, either through disease or crossbreeding with Pacific salmon. To date, there is no record of Atlantic salmon successfully reproducing with Pacific salmon in Washington’s waters, he said.
“It will be some time before we know how many fish escaped the net pens,” Warren said. “That’s why we’ve authorized Cooke Aquaculture to fish with beach seine nets and we’re encouraging anglers to go out and harvest these fish.”
The department has been monitoring the situation and crafting a spill-response plan with Cooke.
Lummi fishers were incensed at the Atlantic salmon intruding in home waters of native Washington Pacific salmon.
G.I. James, a member of the Lummi Natural Resources staff and fish commission, said Pacific salmon face enough trouble as it is without dueling with invaders in their home waters. "It is potentially a disease issue, and impact on our fish, as dire a shape as they are in, right now any impact to them is difficult to absorb."