Eclipse’s high tides break net, dump salmon

Atlantic salmon are considered a harmful invasive species in Washington state, but are raised in West Coast fish farms. Many escaped Monday during an eclipse-related high tide.

Considered a threat to native species, open season declared on Atlantic salmon

BELLINGHAM (AP) — The public is being asked to help mop up a salmon spill from an imploded net holding 305,000 fish at a Cooke Aquaculture fish farm near Cypress Island.

The Seattle Times reports (bit.ly/2wuZYc8) Lummi fishers out for Chinook on Sunday near Samish, south of Bellingham Bay, were surprised to pull up the Atlantic salmon — escapees that turned up in their nets again on Monday.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is urging the public to catch as many of the fish as possible, with no limit on size or number. The fish are about 10 pounds each. No one knows yet how many escaped. But Ron Warren, fish program assistant director for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the net had some 3 million pounds of fish in it when it imploded Saturday.

Warren said the spill was caused by tides pushed unusually high by Monday’s approaching total solar eclipse.

The department has been monitoring the situation and crafting a spill-response plan with Cooke.

Lummi fishers were incensed at the Atlantic salmon intruding in home waters of native Washington Pacific salmon. “It’s a devastation,” said Ellie Kinley, whose family has fished Puget Sound for generations. “We don’t want those fish preying on our baby salmon. And we don’t want them getting up in the rivers.”

G.I. James, a member of the Lummi Natural Resources staff and fish commission, said Pacific salmon face enough trouble as it is without dueling with invaders in their home waters. “It is potentially a disease issue, and impact on our fish, as dire a shape as they are in, right now any impact to them is difficult to absorb.”

The spill comes as the company is considering a controversial net-pen operation in the Strait of Juan de Fuca at Port Angeles, east of the Ediz Hook.

The company’s explanation met with widespread disbelief.

“Part of the feed going to these salmon is chicken feed but this is B.S.,” said Chris Wilke, executive director of the Puget Sound Keeper, a nonprofit environmental group that opposes the company’s planned replacement and expansion of its existing operation.

“If they can’t be trusted in an accident like this how can they be trusted to tell the truth in the permitting process?”

Nell Halle, vice president of communications for Cooke, stuck with the company’s statement in an interview later Tuesday.

“We did have very high tides and it was coinciding with the eclipse. Tides and currents and tidal surges in the last weeks have been very strong.

“Our people are out there every day and that is what they have been seeing. The tides were extremely high, the current 3.5 knots. People can believe it or not. That is the reality.”

She said the farm experiences high tides in July, as well.

The fish were soon due to be harvested and Cooke had intended to replace equipment at the site but was awaiting permits, she added.

She dismissed any environmental concern, saying the fish would not survive and that native fish were not at risk.

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