Atlantic salmon from collapsed fish farm found 60 miles away

KOMO photo

ANACORTES, Wash. - The thousands of Atlantic salmon that escaped a collapsed net pen off Cypress Island on Aug. 19 have now been found up to 60 miles away.

Cooke Aquaculture, which owns the fish farm and is responsible for the clean-up, started pulling equipment from the water on Tuesday

“It’s a concern for everyone; this is not how this is supposed to go, and it will prompt a response of everyone's practices,” said Cori Simmons, public information officer for the state's multi-agency response team that is overseeing and coordinating the containment and recovery of the collapsed farm.

More than 300,000 farmed Atlantic salmon were in the net pens at the farm. Officials are still trying to determine how many fish escaped but it’s believed to be in the thousands.

Cooke representatives told KOMO News they had planned to rebuild the more than 30-year-old farm but plans have since changed.

“Once we get that damaged gear out of the water we recognize that further farming activities at that site – the Cypress sight No. 2 – will be on hold,” said Chuck Brown, communications manager for Cooke Aquaculture.

The net pen collapse pushed Gov. Jay Inslee and the Department of Nature Resources, which leases the land to Cooke, to issue a moratorium on any new permits for fish farming in Washington state.

“Any pending permits or future permits are on hold indefinitely in the interim until more answers come out of this incident,” said Simmons.

Cooke Aquaculture had planned to expand production in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. That move is now on hold because of the moratorium.

“We know we have a lot of work to do to rebuild trust and demonstrate that we are a good operator,” said Brown.

But that may not be enough for Kurt Beardslee, who leads the Wild Fish Conservancy. The group has taken a first step toward suing Cooke over the fish farm escape. The Conservancy opposes fish farming in Puget Sound and Cooke’s proposed expansion.

“It’s well understood in scientific literature everywhere in the world these pens cause environmental harm, and they’re doing it here,” said Beardslee.

He says fish farming in the Salish Sea is a giant risk that Washington state should not be taking.

“We can’t afford to keep losing. We are investing way too much in recovering our wild fish to allow another dangerous polluting industry to harm recovery,” said Beardslee.

It’s not clear how long the moratorium will be in place. Multiple state agencies remain working to determine why the fish farm collapsed.

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