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Over Half Of Net Pen Atlantic Salmon In San Juans Escaped; Reported Catches At Columbia Mouth
Posted on Friday, September 08, 2017 (PST)

More than half of the Atlantic salmon raised in a Cooke Aquaculture net pen in the San Juan Islands escaped before the company could recover them from the damaged pen.

 

Some 145,851 of the fish were removed from the damaged pen by Cooke, including 5,166 fish that had been harvested prior to the incident. However, about 305,000 salmon occupied the pen at its collapse August 19, and since then about 159,149 of the fish have been released into Puget Sound.

 

Recreational anglers reporting to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife caught two of the salmon as far away from Cyprus Island as the mouth of the Columbia River. Anglers have reported other catches on the West side of Vancouver Island, north into the Queen Charlotte Islands and several have been caught in south Puget Sound, according to a WDFW map (http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/salmon/atlantic_catch_map.php). Angler catches are self-reported to WDFW.

 

Meanwhile Cooke crews are dismantling the Cypress Island Farm Site 2, according to a September 6 report by the Washington Department of Natural Resources (http://www.dnr.wa.gov/publications/em_atlantic_salmon_cooke_update_9.6.17.pdf). Previous daily updates are at http://www.dnr.wa.gov/atlanticsalmon\.

 

“All outrigger and outside walkway sections were removed from the farm’s main walkway and staged for lifting,” the report says. “Some sections were lifted onto the work barge on Wednesday and all but three sections of the farm’s main walkway have also been staged for lifting and removal. Cooke and salvage contractors have also recovered several anchors and associated bottom hardware.”

 

In addition, a predator net around the entire farm was secured and rigged for lifting yesterday (Thursday). Sonar services will commence for sea floor assessment shortly – this work will be carried out for marking and recovery of individual items. Daily water quality sampling shows no irregularities compared with ambient samples taken up and downstream from the site.

 

Cooke crews captured 388 escaped Atlantic salmon using beach seines under an emergency permit issued by WDFW. Lummi Nation fishermen have caught over 20,000 of the fish and recreational anglers continue to report catches, as requested by WDFW. Catch reports to WDFW can be made online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/salmon/atlantic_salmon_catch.php

 

Last week Washington Gov. Jay Inslee created an Incident Command group made up of Washington state departments of Natural Resources, WDFW and Ecology, along with the Office of the Governor and the state Emergency Management Division. He also placed a moratorium on permitting new aquaculture farms in the state until the incident has been fully investigated. Cooke Aquaculture has a permit pending in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. That process is on hold.

 

On Friday, August 24, the Wild Fish Conservancy sent a 60-day notice to Cooke notifying the company that it intends to file a citizen suit under section 505 of the federal Clean Water Act, saying that the near-complete failure of the net pen facility is resulting in discharges of farmed Atlantic salmon, dead fish carcasses and debris, among other pollutants (http://wildfishconservancy.org/cwaletterofintentcookeaqua/at_download/file).

 

At the federal level, U.S. Washington Democratic Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, joined by Washington Democratic U.S. Reps. Adam Smith, Pramila Jayapal, Rick Larsen, Derek Kilmer, Denny Heck, and Suzan DelBene, have written a letter to the heads of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to press the two agencies to “take quick and decisive action to address the impacts of hundreds of thousands of escaped farmed Atlantic salmon in Washington state waters.”

 

Citing the importance of wild salmon fisheries to tribes, fishermen, and ecosystems in the state, the members of Congress are calling on NOAA and the Army Corps to direct federal resources to mitigate the risks of this incident, including the capture of the escaped farmed salmon.

 

The letter also calls on the Army Corps to work to stop all permitting for new net pens or expansions to existing pens, as well as prioritize requests to update or maintain existing pens.

 

“Pacific salmon are central to our economy, our culture, and our environment in the Pacific Northwest, and are a critical part of marine and estuarine ecosystems in Washington state,” the members wrote. “The released Atlantic salmon pose a threat to wild Pacific salmon, including multiple endangered and threatened stocks in the region. Tribes, fishermen, and state agencies are working to respond to the escapement but the scale of the release calls for immediate and direct federal response…”

 

Since the breach at the aquaculture site, farmed Atlantic salmon have been found as far afield as Canadian waters on the West side of Vancouver Island, at the mouth of the Columbia River, as well as the Skagit and Nooksack Rivers in northern Washington.

 

“The released Atlantic salmon pose a threat to wild Pacific salmon, including multiple endangered and threatened stocks in the region. Farmed salmon tend to be larger and could out-compete wild salmon for critical resources such as prey and preferred habitat, which is important for spawning, said the Washington State U.S. Democratic Senators and Representatives in the letter.

 

“Tribes and federal and state agencies have worked tirelessly towards restoration of wild salmon populations in Puget Sound. At a time when stocks of many types of wild Pacific salmon are at historic lows, the escape of thousands of farmed salmon could be a devastating setback.”

 

The members also asked the agency heads to conduct a review of the integrity and operation of all currently operating net pen structures to address concerns of further accidents at existing facilities.

 

Text of the letter:

 

Dear Acting Administrator Friedman and Mr. Lamont,

 

We write to request the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) immediately act to minimize the impact of the Atlantic salmon net pen failure near Cypress Island in Skagit County, Washington. The released Atlantic salmon pose a threat to wild Pacific salmon, including multiple endangered and threatened stocks in the region. Tribes, along with federal and state agencies have worked tirelessly to restore wild salmon in Puget Sound and the escapement of thousands of farmed salmon could be a devastating setback.

 

Pacific salmon are central to our economy, our culture, and our environment in the Pacific Northwest, and are a critical part of marine and estuarine ecosystems in Washington state. Pacific salmon support treaty rights for Tribes throughout the region, commercial and recreational fishers, as well as predators like the endangered Southern resident orcas. On August 19th, potentially hundreds of thousands of farmed Atlantic salmon were released into the Puget Sound ecosystem due to the structural failure of a net pen. While the fish farm facility was permitted under Washington state law, the escapement may negatively impact resources under the jurisdiction of NOAA, the Army Corps, and other federal agencies. Most concerning is the threat farmed Atlantic salmon pose to the wild Pacific salmon populations stocks in Puget Sound. Farmed salmon tend to be larger and could out-compete wild salmon for critical resources such as prey and preferred habitat, which is important for spawning.

 

Tribes, fishermen, and state agencies are working to respond to the escapement but the scale of the release calls for immediate and direct federal response including mitigation, scientific support, and funding to improve response and capture of the released Atlantic salmon. Further, as other net pens remain in our waters, we request the Army Corps halt all permitting for new net pens or expansions to existing net pens, while prioritizing permit requests to upgrade and maintain existing net pens. In addition, we ask NOAA and the Army Corps to review the integrity and operation of all existing net pen structures to determine any additional threats to wild salmon in the area and prevent any further escapement of farmed salmon into our waters.

 

We appreciate your ongoing work to restore Pacific salmon in Puget Sound and throughout the Pacific Northwest.

 

According to WDFW (http://wdfw.wa.gov/ais/salmo_salar/), fisheries managers are concerned that the escaped Atlantic salmon may impact native fish stocks, many listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. Impacts, they say, could include competition, predation, disease transfer, hybridization and colonization.

 

The state agency said findings in the draft report “are consistent with the findings of WDFW reported in 1999, i.e., evidence indicates that Atlantic salmon aquaculture poses low-risk to native salmon and non-salmon species.”

 

WDFW says that a risk assessment of Atlantic salmon aquaculture in the Pacific region by NOAA Fisheries is currently in process and will be released later this year.

 

A 1999 WDFW report on Atlantic salmon aquafarming is at http://wdfw.wa.gov/publications/pub.php?id=00922.

 

Also see:

 

--CBB, September 1, 2017, “Fish Farm Escape: Intent To Sue Filed, Washington Sets Up Incident Command Structure To Contain,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/439510.aspx

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