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Escaped Atlantic Salmon Continue To Be Caught; WDFW Says Fish Not Expected To Establish Themselves
Posted on Friday, September 22, 2017 (PST)

Recreational anglers continue to catch stray Atlantic salmon in Puget Sound, the West Coast of Vancouver Island and as far north as the Queen Charlotte Islands in Canada. The salmon are some of the nearly 160,000 fish that escaped an aquaculture net pen at Cypress Island in the San Juan Islands of Washington in August.


A fish health report by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife says the Atlantic salmon were healthy when released, but further says that the fish are not expected to live long in Puget Sound, nor are they expected to establish themselves in the Sound.


“Anorexia is apparent given gall bladder size and GI tract analysis,” the September 7 report by Jed Varney of WDFW says. “Necropsy findings indicate an active inflammatory process of unknown origin originating in the gastrointestinal tract in the later September capture group.”


The Atlantic salmon are a “domesticated species that is adapted to hatchery conditions much like our domestic rainbow trout stocks,” Varney continues. “The stress of a different environment and lack of food may play some role in disease seen as time goes on post release, reducing survival. Previous accidental releases in 1996, 1997, 1999 and others have not seen this species establish itself in Puget Sound.”


The Fish Health Report Summary is at


Cooke Aquaculture, the owner and operator of the aquaculture operation in Deepwater Bay on Cypress Island, said that about 305,000 Atlantic salmon were initially in the net pen when it collapsed. Some 145,851 fish were removed from the structure by the company. That includes 5,166 fish that were harvested prior to the collapse August 20 and 388 fish the company caught using beach seines after the collapse.


Over the last couple of weeks, Cooke has been working with a salvage contractor to remove the stock nets at the facility and this week is completing removal of a predator barrier net, which is a large net that encircles the stock nets to protect the fish from predators. All walkway structures and the 10 stock nets already are removed from the water, according to September 13 situation update ( All updates are at the Washington Department of Natural Resources website at


Side sonar scanning of the area will begin soon. The scanning will determine the precise location of any remaining gear that needs to be removed by divers. Cooke will meet with the salvage contractor to review sonar results and discuss retrieval of gear – an operation that is expected to take place this week, the update says.


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


Anglers have reported catches on the west side of Vancouver Island, north into the Queen Charlotte Islands and in south Puget Sound. An angler report of catches at the Columbia River mouth two weeks ago was erroneous, but catches have been reported in the ocean off the Strait of Juan de Fuca, according to a WDFW map ( Angler catches are self-reported to WDFW.


Cooke conducts daily water quality sampling and says the readings show “no irregularities compared with ambient samples taken up and downstream from the site.”


Within days of Cooke Aquaculture net pens collapsing, 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, which is now on hold.


In addition, on 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 (


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, wrote 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.”


They called on NOAA and the Corps to direct federal resources to mitigate the risks of this incident, including the capture of the escaped farmed salmon. The letter also called on the 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.


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


Also see:


--CBB, September 8, 2017, “Over Half Of Net Pen Atlantic Salmon In San Juans Escaped; Reported Catches At Columbia Mouth,”


--CBB, September 1, 2017, “Fish Farm Escape: Intent To Sue Filed, Washington Sets Up Incident Command Structure To Contain,”

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