What could go wrong?
The public in Washington state’s Bellingham Bay is being encouraged to catch as much Atlantic salmon as they can. Why? Because of a salmon spill. A damaged net pen that was holding fish at a Cooke Aquaculture fish farm near Cypress Island, broke, spilling some 3 million pounds of farmed fish into the Atlantic. 1
So far, the Department of Fish and Wildlife hasn’t set a limit on the size or number of fish people can catch.
It’s estimated that 4,000 to 5,000 fish escaped on August 19th. However, when anchor lines to the pens broke and service walkways tipped, thanks to high tides and currents that coincided with the solar eclipse, it wasn’t safe for employees to get in the water and assess the full scope of the spill.
However, Nell Halse, vice president of communications for Cooke, dismissed everyone’s concerns claiming the fish will not survive and therefore the native fish are not at risk. But nature always finds a way. And that is what local fishermen and environmentalists are worried about. In fact, Alaska banned salmon farming in coastal waters altogether for these very reasons.
Now that the farmed fish have escaped, the fishermen at Lummi are angry about the Atlantic salmon “intruding in home waters of native Washington Pacific salmon.”2 And with good concern. Although no one has ever seen a successful cross between the two species, it doesn’t mean it’s not possible or that the Altantics might not become invasive. Especially given that the fish who escaped are “believed” to be healthy and disease free.
Recreational fishers are urged to catch as many of the Atlantic salmon as possible and all you need is a valid fishing license- you don’t even have to record the fish on a ticket. You may also legally buy the Atlantic salmon from commercial and tribal fishers. Basically, they just want them out of the water.