Open season on Atlantic salmon is fun, but the accidental release of thousands of farmed fish near Anacortes raises serious questions for regulators and farm operators.
THE open season on Atlantic salmon fishing right here in Puget Sound, prompted by a broken fish pen near Anacortes, is a fun way to end a remarkable summer.
But the accidental release of thousands of farmed salmon raises serious questions about the oversight of this growing offshore industry.
Myriad state and federal agencies are involved in the permitting of fish farms, yet Cooke Aquaculture still experienced a substantial net-pen failure on Aug. 19 at its farm on Cypress Island, between Guemes and Blakely islands.
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That prompted the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to declare open season on the thousands of Atlantic salmon that were released, inviting anglers to catch as many escapees as possible.
An initial flurry of misleading information, suggesting the accident was related to tides during the Aug. 21 eclipse, puts the onus on Cooke Aquaculture to better explain what happened. All operators must do a better job informing the public when incidents occur in publicly owned waters they lease from the state.
This is especially important for Cooke, a Canadian aquaculture giant aiming to further expand operations in Washington.
Last year Cooke bought Seattle-based Icicle Seafoods, a pillar of the Alaskan fishing industry that operated the Cypress Island farm and others in Puget Sound for decades. It’s now planning to expand with a new facility near Port Angeles.
Fish farming was already controversial, creating tensions with tribes and wild-fish advocates. There are ongoing concerns about disease and habitat degradation, although federal scientists say there is little risk to native and endangered species.
Wild salmon remains superior, especially to those raised in a culture that reveres the greatness and flavor of our iconic native species.
Yet the aquaculture industry is here to stay. It provides a growing share of fish consumed in the U.S. and abroad, offsetting declines in wild-salmon stocks and harvesting, and providing a year-round source of healthy protein to a growing world population.
Regulators must assure Washingtonians that they are adequately overseeing this industry to protect wild salmon and habitat. Cooke and other operators seeking to use Washington waters must also demonstrate that they are investing in safety and quality operations as well as growth.
In the meantime, happy fishing.