Hatchery runaways add to concerns about fish farms

  Farm-raised Atlantic salmon — already discovered in 12 Puget Sound river systems — have infiltrated another Northwestern stream. In July, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife employees spotted 250 juveniles in Scatter Creek, near Olympia.

John Kerwin, a state hatchery official, says the fish came from a Cypress Island Inc. hatchery that produces salmon smolts for its eight Puget Sound fish farms. The salmon likely escaped through the hatchery’s pollution-abatement ponds, he says.

But hatchery manager Dan Rotter says vandals may have set the fish free to sully the company’s reputation. “There’s a network of anti-aquaculture people who are bent on seeing our industry go by the wayside,” he says.

In fact, Rotter says he apprehended “an anti-industry alien” in the hatchery’s pollution-abatement ponds early in August. But this was no eco-saboteur — it was Canadian biologist John Volpe. Volpe is one of the only scientists taking a hands-on approach to studying the spread of farmed salmon. With his snorkel and wet suit, he has discovered Atlantic salmon reproducing in three rivers on Vancouver Island.

To date, no one has proven that Atlantic salmon are colonizing — or establishing self-perpetuating populations — in Northwestern rivers, but Volpe says that’s beside the point. “Atlantic salmon are maintaining a persistent presence in the natural environment,” whether through reproduction or continual replacement by more escapees, he says. Atlantic salmon pose problems for struggling native salmon, competing for food and habitat and potentially mating with natives, watering down the gene pool.

The state plans to remove as many Atlantic salmon as possible from Scatter Creek, and Cypress Island will pay the tab.