October 1, 2017
An appalling lack of effective state oversight, together with slipshod maintenance by foreign owners, led to the release of tens of thousands of predatory Atlantic salmon from net pens in the pristine waters of Puget Sound’s Cypress Island Aquatic Reserve (see related story on page 14 of this issue).
After the collapse of the net pens on Saturday, August 19th, Canadian company Cooke Aquaculture warned that as many as 4,000 to 5,000 fish had escaped. Upon investigation, that number quickly rose to around 187,000 fish. Initial response from the state was tepid, and remains half-hearted.
Fortunately, the Lummi tribe stepped in to save the day.
Although the fish farm company’s website claims, “With its deep, clean water and strong tidal surges, the Sound is ideal for growing salmon,” Cooke initially blamed the failure on strong currents generated by the recent solar eclipse. Official company spokesperson, Nell Halse showed a knack for public relations: “We did have very high tides and it was coinciding with the eclipse,” she told the Seattle Times. “People can believe it or not.”
Most people familiar with the story chose ‘not,’ and their suspicions were confirmed when Cooke later admitted that the pens in question were in poor shape and had been slated for repair.
Lummi tribal fishermen were the first to see the escaped fish, which are classified as a pollutant by the Washington State Department of Ecology. While the state departments of ecology, fish and wildlife and natural resources were still “investigating” the fiasco, the Lummi tribe was reacting by offering $1.25/lb. for the captured fish, which were delivered to tenders on the grounds and then to Bellingham Cold Storage, where they remain on ice pending repurchase by Cooke.
The Lummi tribe deserves praise for their quick action and the removal of a massive quantity of these fish from the delicate Puget Sound ecosystem. At press time, more than two weeks after the pen breach, the State of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife had not reached out to the commercial fishermen best qualified to catch these fish, instead relying on recreational fishermen, who have caught only 1,700 of the 160,000 fish recovered to date.
Meanwhile, Galaxy Aydelotte, a crewmember on the Lummi Island Wild commercial tender Solar Ice, says, “Salmon is a way of life for the Lummi and a critical species for our marine ecosystem. We do not know the full impact these fish will have on our ocean or our local salmon populations and we don’t want to find out. It is too important. So the Lummi Nation declared a state of emergency and launched a recovery fishery to capture the fish and contain the damage.”
She says the recovered fish is being treated as hazardous waste, collected and frozen as evidence for the inevitable court case. “The escaped salmon have turned up as far north as Johnstone Strait in Canada, as far west as Neah Bay and as far south as Olympia.”
Aydelotte notes that the fishermen who abandoned their traditional fisheries of lucrative wild salmon, shrimp and crab “to try and safeguard the waters that we all love and depend on” are spending their own money on fuel, groceries and supplies.
Meanwhile, if you’re wondering how to get rid of as many as 200,000 Atlantic salmon at 8 to 10 lbs. per fish, the State of Washington recommends your Waste Management yard and food waste curbside bin as an appropriate disposal destination.
A web link that appeared in the print version of this editorial is no longer active and has been removed.
Chris Philips can be reached at: 206-284-8285 or email: email@example.com