After Atlantic salmon spill, fish farms' future under attack on both sides of border

Lynda V. Mapes, The Seattle Times on

Published in Outdoors

"Little state government oversight, lack of coordination and a rapid-response plan, along with poor communication by Cooke Aquaculture delayed quick action to contain the fish, allowing them to spread throughout Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Washington Coast and southern British Columbia."

The statement also said Cooke should be fined for negligence and made to pay for all clean up costs.

Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, said he thinks it is past time to take action against Atlantic salmon farming in Washington, adding that he and others in Olympia on both sides of the aisle have legislation in the works for the coming legislative session. "I am totally opposed to net pen aquaculture of invasive species in the Salish Sea."

The impact of the spill remains unknown on wild fish runs, some of which are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act.

"You don't know are they going to go upriver, are they are going to eat fish or not eat fish, or compete for food," said Lorraine Loomis, fisheries manager for the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and chairwoman of the commission.

Swinomish chairman Brian Cladoosby was out fishing this week, "trying to kill these things." He said fishermen are catching Atlantics with bellies full of native Pacific salmon fingerlings.


Washington is no stranger to farmed Atlantic salmon escapes, with spills in 1996, 1997 and 1999, including one of 369,000 fish. So far, no instance of crossbreeding between Pacific and Atlantic salmon has been documented.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife once tried to establish Atlantic salmon runs to stoke fishing opportunity, releasing the foreign fish in Washington waters in 1951, 1980 and 1981. Many releases also were made in lakes. But none resulted in established runs.

Research to develop a marine net-pen industry began in the late 1960s, beginning in Puget Sound near Manchester by the National Marine Fisheries Service -- now NOAA fisheries, the federal agency charged with protecting Washington's imperiled wild runs.

Atlantic salmon, through intensive breeding programs, emerged as the species most amenable. Washington today is the leading farmed Atlantic salmon producer in the nation. California and Alaska ban the industry. No Atlantic salmon farms operate in Oregon.


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