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Three weeks later, more than 100,000 Atlantic salmon could still be in local waters

Fish & Wildlife talks about catching escaped Atlantic salmon in Puget Sound

Danny Garrett with the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife talks about recreational fishing for escaped Atlantic salmon in Puget Sound, after a fish farm's net pen collapsed August 19 and release thousands of fish.
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Danny Garrett with the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife talks about recreational fishing for escaped Atlantic salmon in Puget Sound, after a fish farm's net pen collapsed August 19 and release thousands of fish.

Despite the efforts of local fishing fleets, more than 100,000 Atlantic salmon are estimated to still be roaming West Coast waters.

On Aug. 19 a fish farm near Cypress Island holding 305,000 Atlantic salmon sustained structural damage, releasing many of the fish into the area. On Sept. 7 the state estimated that 104,313 fish were still unaccounted for, although the report noted not all of the data gathered has been verified.

In a news release Tuesday, the Lummi Nation estimated they had caught 43,522 Atlantic salmon but 114,000 were still out in the waters.

“Washington state law considers this invasive species a pollutant, and our hard-working fishermen have carried the burden of the cleanup efforts,” said Timothy Ballew II, chairman of Lummi Nation, in the news release. “They continue to do all they can.”

The remaining Atlantic salmon have spread out well beyond Cypress Island. At this point many in the local commercial fishing fleet have quit targeting the Atlantic salmon and begun focusing on the local fish again, said Riley Starks of Lummi Island Wild. They have about 20,000 pounds of Atlantic Salmon in the freezer that they haven’t decided what to do with.

The owner of the fish farm, Cooke Aquaculture, has not offered to buy back the fish caught by commercial fishing fleets, nor has the state.

“The company and state are expecting (local fishing fleets) to clean up their mess,” Starks said, adding he is still hopeful Cooke would eventually buy the fish back.

A phone message left for Cooke Aquaculture was not immediately returned Tuesday. In a written statement last week, the company said it was “deeply sorry about this event,” and it had been focused on properly and safely removing the fish and equipment from the farm.

The non-native fish pose a risk to native stocks because they can potentially spread diseases and compete for food and spawning grounds, according to the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. However, Michael Rust, a NOAA researcher, recently told The Seattle Times the Atlantic salmon are more likely to be prey than predators.

Meanwhile, a moratorium is still in place on new leases or permits for Atlantic salmon net pens until a review of the incident is completed.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz

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