Fishy reasons behind big Atlantic salmon escape

Did eclipse-driven tides release a pen of salmon off the coast of Washington?

 

This story was originally published by Crosscut.

Lummi Tribal fishermen fishing near Samish south of Bellingham Bay, Washington, have already reported catching some of the thousands of Atlantic salmon escapees that fled a Cooke Aquaculture fish farm over the weekend.

On Monday, state fisheries issued a free-for-all emergency sport-fishing bounty on an unknown number of farm-raised Atlantic salmon that escaped from net pens in Deepwater Bay, located on the east side of Cypress Island in the San Juan Islands. The Cooke Aquaculture net pen holds about 305,000 fish averaging eight to ten pounds each, a news release said.

The Cooke Aquaculture farm blamed “exceptionally high tides and currents coinciding with (Monday’s) solar eclipse” for the net pen failure.

A male Atlantic salmon. Thousands were accidentally released off Washington's coast.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

But tribal fishery managers disagree about what might have caused the accident reported to Fish and Wildlife on Saturday, Aug. 19.

“I don’t understand why they claim the big tidal exchange is to blame since we’ve recently had bigger tidal exchanges,” said Casey Ruff, the management director of the Skagit River System Cooperative, a tribal natural resource management group for the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe and the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community. “If that was the case then this failure should’ve happened earlier. We have surveyors out keeping an eye on the spawning grounds since currently there are no fisheries in the (Skagit) rivers.”

Ruff’s concern has raised a red flag for many Puget Sound tribes as Cooke considers placing another net-pen farm in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca near Port Angeles, Washington.

“Amongst the tribes, these net-pen operations have been a big concern, and we have grave issues with their proposed expansion and negative effects to wild salmon resources,” Ruff said. “Our hope is the Department of Ecology comes up with a best management framework for these operations trying to get permits to expand.”

The tribes are most concerned that the escaped Atlantic salmon may negatively impact native Puget Sound salmon stocks by competing for food and/or possibly passing along disease. Some of the native salmon stocks are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

State Fish and Wildlife is also concerned about the impact these escaped Atlantic salmon might have on the ecosystem. “Our first concern, of course, is to protect native fish species,” said Ron Warren, head of WDFW’s Fish Program, in a press release issued Tuesday. “So we’d like to see as many of these escaped fish caught as possible.”

The department is monitoring the situation and crafting a spill-response plan with Cooke. It is also investigating whether this was eclipse and/or tidal-related — or not.

In the meantime, state fisheries are asking sport anglers who are fishing in open marine areas like the San Juan Islands and Bellingham Bay, as well as in nearby rivers, to keep as many Atlantic salmon as possible — and to report their catch immediately to a hotline at 360-902-2700.

“We’d like to gather as much information as possible on where folks are catching them, and how far they have dispersed from the net pen area,” said Ryan Lothrop, the state Fish and Wildlife Puget Sound recreational salmon manager. “Also, if anglers figure out how to catch them, we’d like to know what technique works best.”

Anglers must possess a valid fishing license (to catch salmon in saltwater and trout in freshwater), and there is no daily catch, possession or size limit on Atlantic salmon caught in open anadromous waters. Anglers must stop fishing for Atlantic salmon once they attain a daily limit on other salmon species.

An Atlantic salmon is identifiable by the large spots on the gill cover. There is no silver on the tail, and the dorsal, ventricle, and tail fins are likely eroded from containment in net pens.

Anglers who catch Atlantic salmon, and who want to deliver the fish or its head to the department for research purposes, are asked to call the hotline.

There have been previous escapes of Atlantic salmon from commercial net pens in Puget Sound in the mid-to-late 1990s.

High Country News Classifieds
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Executive Director Position Announcement POSITION TITLE: Executive Director ORGANIZATION: Friends of Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument REPORTING TO: Board of Directors EMPLOYMENT TYPE: Part-time - Full-time, based...
  • HEALTHY CITIES PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Healthy Cities Program Director leads and manages the Healthy Cities Program for the Arizona Chapter and is responsible for developing and implementing innovative, high...
  • CONSERVATION PROGRAM MANAGER
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) Conservation Programs Manager Job Opening Our Mission: Honoring the past and safeguarding the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument through...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) Associate Director Job Posting Our Mission: Honoring the past and safeguarding the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument through science,...
  • UNIQUE, ENERGY-EFFICIENT HOME ON ACREAGE NEAR MOSCOW, IDAHO
    Custom-built energy-efficient 3000 sqft two-story 3BR home, 900 sqft 1 BR accessory cottage above 2-car garage and large shop. Large horse barn. $1,200,000. See online...
  • OUTDOOR ADVENTURE BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Missoula Outdoor Learning Adventures (MOLA) - established and profitable outdoor adventure & education business in Missoula, Montana. Summer camp, raft & climb guide, teen travel,...
  • OJO SARCO FARM/HOME
    A wonderful country setting for a farm/work 1350s.f. frame home plus 1000 studio/workshop. 5 acres w fruit trees, an irrigation well, pasture and a small...
  • STEWARDSHIP COORDINATOR
    Join Skagit Land Trust (the Trust), a not-for-profit conservation organization based in Mount Vernon, Washington, and help protect land for people and wildlife. Skagit Land...
  • 2022 SEASONAL SCIENCE EDUCATOR
    The Mount St. Helens Institute Science Educator supports our science education and rental programs including day and overnight programs for youth ages 6-18, their families...
  • POLICY DIRECTOR
    Heart of the Rockies Initiative is seeking a Policy Director to lead and define policy efforts to advance our mission to keep working lands and...
  • CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
    Self-Help Enterprises seeks an experienced and strategic CFO
  • CONSERVATION SPECIALIST - LAND PROTECTION FOCUS
    View full job description and how to apply at
  • RIVER EDUCATOR & GUIDE
    River Educator & Guide River Educator & Guide (Trip Leader) Non-exempt, Seasonal Position: Full-time OR part-time (early April through October; may be flexible with start/end...
  • LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    The Land and Water Conservation Director is a full-time salaried position with the Mountain Area Land Trust in Evergreen, CO. The successful candidate will have...
  • FOOD SYSTEMS ENVIRONMENTAL FELLOWSHIP
    If you were to design a sustainable society from the ground up, it would look nothing like the contemporary United States. But what would it...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) is seeking an Executive Director who will lead RiGHT toward a future of continued high conservation impact, organizational...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Help protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life. Work hard, meet good people, make the world a better place!...
  • NEW BOOK:
    True Wildlife Tales From Boy to Man. Finding my voice to save wildlife in the Apache spirit. 365+ vivid colorful pictures. Buy on Amazon/John Wachholz
  • CHIEF OPERATIONS OFFICER
    with Rural Community Assistance Corporation. Apply here: https://www.marcumllp.com/executive-search/chief-operations-officer-rcac
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, Hike the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...