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Their fish farm collapsed. Now they want to raise a million more salmon in Puget Sound

Local fisherman Luke Kinley caugh these Atlantic salmon while fishing near the Samish River Tuesday, August 22. A fish farm collapsed near Cypress Island August 19, releasing thousands of the non-naive fish in the Salish Sea.
Local fisherman Luke Kinley caugh these Atlantic salmon while fishing near the Samish River Tuesday, August 22. A fish farm collapsed near Cypress Island August 19, releasing thousands of the non-naive fish in the Salish Sea. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

The company whose collapsed net pens released thousands of farmed Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound is planning to stock another marine facility off Bainbridge Island with a million juvenile fish despite a request from the governor not to do so.

Gov. Jay Inslee had asked Cooke Aquaculture not to move fish from its hatchery to other saltwater net pens until the investigation into the Aug. 19 salmon farm collapse at its Cypress Island facility was completed.

Tens of thousands of the non-native Atlantic salmon escaped into local rivers and waterways after those net pens failed, raising concerns about its impact on native salmon. Meanwhile, three state agencies are investigating what went wrong. That review is expected to be done in December.

“This is disappointing and frustrating, coming on the heels of the August collapse of Cooke’s net pen near Cypress Island that held 305,000 fish,” Inslee said in a statement Tuesday.

Inslee’s chief of staff, David Postman, urged Cooke on Monday to halt the transfer of the million juvenile fish, noting that “the governor believes we do not yet have enough information about the safety of the existing pens.

“To be fair to Washington tribes, to protect our environment and to take a stand to show Washingtonians that Cooke Aquaculture is taking seriously questions about safety of net pens, I want to urge you to halt the transfer of those fish.”

We should be putting our efforts at finding those fish that escaped rather than putting in 1 million more.

Tim Ballew II, chairman of the Lummi Indian Business Council

Tim Ballew II, chairman of the Lummi Indian Business Council, told the Seattle Times the fish farm collapse “created a disaster and an emergency for our tribe.

“We are deeply saddened that the state of Washington and this foreign corporation are willing to take a business-as-usual attitude,” Ballew said. “We should be putting our efforts at finding those fish that escaped rather than putting in 1 million more.”

But a lawyer for the Canada-based company said Cooke needed to get the young salmon into saltwater pens soon — or they may have to be destroyed — and noted that it has been working with state agencies to ensure that the fish are free of disease and the pens at the Clam Bay facility are secure.

Cooke said the Clam Bay net pens are entirely different from the Cypress Island pens and recent inspections confirm they do not pose a risk of the Cypress Island incident occurring.

Cooke spokeswoman Nell Halse said in an email Tuesday that transporting fish into grow-out pens typically only requires assurances that the young fish are healthy. But given the problems at the Cypress Island facility, the company has worked with state officials to inspect the Clam Bay facility.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife issued a fish transport permit late Monday. The agency said it didn’t have the authority to deny Cooke permits to transfer fish into existing net pens.

State officials said they have worked to make sure that Cooke’s facility at Clam Bay in Kitsap County met structural, water quality, and fish health requirements.

Critics say the recent fish escape highlights potential risks of open-sea fish farming. They worry about water pollution from fish feed and the potential for farmed fish to spread of diseases and parasites to wild fish.

Aerial footage of a net holding more than 300,000 salmon that broke amid the eclipse's high tides near the San Juan Islands.

Cooke’s Cypress Island facility held about 305,000 adult Atlantic salmon, each roughly 10 pounds and nearly ready for market. About 100,000 fish remain unaccounted for. Roughly 145,000 fish were recovered from damaged nets at the facility, while the rest were captured by tribal fishermen and others.

A week after the pens collapsed, Inslee and Public Lands Commission Hilary Franz halted permits for new marine aquaculture facilities until the state’s investigation is done.

Cooke operates eight salmon farms in state that it acquired last year. It has proposed building a new marine salmon farm in the Strait of Juan de Fuca with plans to move current operations from Port Angeles Harbor and increase production by 20 percent.

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