About 305,000 salmon were in the net pen at the time, although it was initially estimated that only 4,000 to 5,000 fish escaped, state fisheries officials said in a statement issued on August 22.
The state has authorized Cooke Aquaculture to fish with beach seine nets, and encouraged anglers to also harvest fish.
“Our first concern, of course, is to protect native fish species, so we’d like to see as many of these escaped fish caught as possible,” said Ron Warren, who heads the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Fish Program (WDFW).
Warren said there is no evidence that these fish pose a threat to native fish populations, either through disease or crossbreeding with Pacific salmon. He noted that to date there is no record of Atlantic salmon successfully reproducing with Pacific salmon in Washington.
Participating anglers must have a current fishing license and must observe gear regulations identified in the 2017-2018 sport fishing pamphlet, but they do not have to report Atlantic salmon on their catch record cards.
To help anglers identify Atlantic salmon, WDFW has posted a salmon identification guide on its webpage at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/salmon/atlantic.html
In a statement issued by Cooke, and published in The Seattle Times, the aquaculture company said “exceptionally high tides and currents coinciding with this week’s solar eclipse” caused the damage. Cooke said the incident was due to a “structural failure” of a net pen.
The Puget Soundkeeper countered that the fish escaped at a time “when charts show that tides and currents were well within predictions.” The Puget Soundkeeper said Cooke’s statement was misleading, “distracting from their failure to secure the pens safely and to adequately prepare for predictable tide events.
“In fact, over the last month, there were at least 11 days with higher tides than occurred on August 19th,” Soundkeeper said. “And king tides during the winter are routinely much higher than those reported this month.”
Cooke Industries meanwhile has plans to expand a net pen site near Port Angeles, and install up to 20 more sites in the Puget Sound area. A hearing is scheduled on the Port Angeles proposal on September 7.
(See our editorial on the subject in the September, 2017 Fishermen’s News.)