Anglers with The Lummi Nation said they have caught approximately 20,000 Atlantic salmon that escaped after a commercial net pen off Cypress Island in the Puget Sound collapsed.
Since Lummi declared a state of emergency on Aug. 24, it encouraged its anglers to continue fishing throughout the weekend to remove as many of the non-native species as possible. Since that time, Lummi anglers have brought in about 200,000 pounds of the fish, which is deemed as an invasive species.
“Lummi is grateful for our fishermen who are out on the water protecting our livelihoods,” said Timothy Ballew II, chairman of the Lummi Indian Business Council, in a news release. “The native fish from these waters have fed our families for thousands of years, so it’s our responsibility to honor that and ensure the tradition continues for future generations.”
Ballew said updated catch numbers should be available Tuesday morning – but he wasn’t sure what the tribe would do with the catch.
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“Our immediate focus is cleaning up this mess and, after that, I’m sure we’ll be looking at what our options are,” Ballew said in an interview Monday.
On Aug. 19, Canadian-based Cooke Aquaculture’s marine salmon farm failed, releasing thousands of farmed Atlantic salmon into the water. Cooke officials first estimated only 4,000 to 5,000 fish escaped, but then later admitted the total was much higher.
As of Monday evening, Cooke officials said they had retrieved 120,000 fish from the structure, which they hope to have removed from the water by the end of the week, according to Cori Simmons, incident command spokeswoman. Officials estimated that about 187,000 fish escaped. Initial reports from Cooke stated the farm held 305,000 fish, not 307,000.
The non-native fish pose a risk to native stocks, including the endangered Chinook salmon, because they can spread diseases and can compete for food and spawning grounds, according to published reports.
The Department of Fish & Wildlife declared open season last week on Atlantic salmon and is encouraging anglers to report their catch online, though they are not required to record the Atlantic salmon on their catch cards. There is no size or catch limits on Atlantic salmon.
Last month Cooke made repairs to the Cypress Island facility because it had begun to drift, according to company officials. Cooke has eight commercial salmon farms in Washington state after buying them from Icicle Seafoods last year.
The Wild Fish Conservancy Northwest announced last Friday that it plans to sue Cooke Aquaculture for violation of the federal Clean Water Act. The group said it would have filed the lawsuit immediately, but there’s a 60-day notice period.
Over the weekend, multiple state agencies, including the Department of Fish & Wildlife, the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Ecology formed an incident command structure, which is based in Anacortes, to respond to the escaped fish. They are working with local tribes, as well as Gov. Jay Inslee’s office and the state Emergency Management Division. Cooke Aquaculture is also involved.
Inslee and Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz said there will be a moratorium on new leases or permits for marine Atlantic salmon net pens until a full review of the incident is completed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.