Farmed Atlantic salmon have dispersed over a 60-mile area since the Cypress Island fish farm collapsed.
A planned expansion of Atlantic salmon net-pen operations in the Strait of Juan de Fuca is on hold and no new operations will be allowed under a permit moratorium imposed after a mass escape of farmed salmon.
Cooke Aquaculture Pacific had planned to move and expand its operations near the Ediz Hook. But its failure to safely operate and maintain its existing Cypress Island Farm, allowing about half the 305,000 farmed Atlantic salmon there to escape, caused Gov. Jay Inslee and Hilary Franz, Commissioner of Public Lands, to jointly issue a moratorium on any new or pending permits for fish farming in Washington.
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The moratorium is in place while the state investigates the cause of the failure of part of Cooke’s facility near Guemes Island beginning Aug. 19 and culminating Aug. 20 with a catastrophic collapse of the structure, which contained 10 net pens and some 3 million pounds of farmed Atlantic salmon.
The company also now is in default on its lease agreement with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which leases the public’s bedlands to the global, foreign corporation for its operations in Washington waters. The company acquired eight net-pen facilities from Icicle Seafoods about a year ago and operates all of them under leases with DNR.
The company, based in Canada, must correct its failures at Cypress Island to come back into compliance with the terms of the lease, said Cori Simmons, head of communications for DNR.
Meanwhile the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has been receiving reports of Atlantic salmon dispersing over a 60-mile area since the wreck of the farm, said Bruce Botka, spokesman for the department.
WDFW has launched a web page where it asks anglers to report their catch of the fugitive fish, to help the department track how far the farmed fish range from the site of the spill.
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State agencies launched a unified emergency response to the spill Saturday. By then the Lummi Nation had declared the state’s response a failure and initiated an emergency fishery of its own to mop up the spill.
The tribe pledged to pay buyers to take Atlantic salmon caught by Lummi fishermen, who caught more than 200,000 pounds of Atlantic salmon over the weekend, according to the tribe.
Cooke meanwhile has also been deploying a diver with a vacuum hose to capture fish still in its net pens. So far the company has captured about 120,000 fish in the mangled farm, some dead and some alive, according to the most recent update posted by the DNR.
There were 305,000 fish in the net pens to start with, and the tribe has caught about 20,000. The company was continuing to work Monday at getting remaining fish out of its facility. The number of fish left in the nets was “not significant,” Simmons of the DNR said, indicating about half the fish at the farm had escaped.
The farmed fish went on the lam just as native salmon are making their way back to the spawning grounds. Merle Jefferson, natural-resources director at Lummi, said the tribe is concerned the nonnative fish — classified as a pollutant by the state Department of Ecology — will compete with wild fish on the spawning grounds and could potentially carry diseases.
“These fish don’t belong here in our waters, and I’ll do what I can to get rid of them,” said Lummi fisherman Dana Wilson. “With all the mopping up I’ve been doing over the weekend, I can now add ‘janitor’ to my résumé.”
Washington is the home to the largest open-water salmon-farming industry in the nation. Alaska and California ban such operations, and none operate in Oregon.