Wild BC salmon at risk after farmed fish escape in WA


Wild B.C. salmon at risk after invasive farmed fish escape net

Published Wednesday, August 23, 2017 7:00PM PDT

Experts warn local species of salmon could be at risk after thousands of invasive Atlantic salmon escaped from a fish farm on the Pacific, an incident the company blames on the solar eclipse.

Thousands of farmed salmon fled to open waters off Washington State on Saturday after a pen meant to contain the fish was mangled.

The pen is located near Cypress Island, east of Victoria, and is owned by New Brunswick-based Cooke Aquaculture. The company said the pen held around 300,000 fish, and it is not yet known exactly how many escaped.

Cook Aquaculture is blaming Monday's solar eclipse for the incident, saying the currents and high tides in the days leading up to the event turned the pen into a mangled mess.

The incident was top of mind for a group of anti-fish-farm demonstrators gathered outside the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' Vancouver office on Wednesday.

"It's really devastating to see really your worst nightmare come true when it comes to fish farms," said Sacheen Seitcham.

"They know no borders, they swim everywhere," Eddie Gardner said.

Biologist Alexandra Morton said the escape could be troublesome for local salmon stocks.

"Releasing this many Atlantic salmon into the Pacific right during the wild salmon migration is a tremendous risk to wild populations," she said.

Morton said the number of Fraser River sockeye is already low, and the invasive Atlantic salmon could pose a serious threat in several ways.

"Whether it's disease or being caught as bycatch or just the fish getting in and competing in the rivers, these are all enormous risks that we know."

She believes the industry should move toward land-based pens.

Washington State's Department of Fish and Wildlife is urging the public to help out by catching as many of the fish as possible. The fish are about 4.5 kilograms each, and there are no limitations on size or number those who catch them can bring back to shore.

The department is monitoring the situation and working with Cooke Aquaculture to form a spill-response plan. No one from the fish farm was available for comment.

North of the border, a representative from the provincial Ministry of Agriculture said staff are staying in touch with their federal colleagues, who are working with American officials.

"As the escape occurred at a U.S. facility subject to U.S. regulation, we trust they will work with their U.S. counterparts to ensure appropriate actions are taken," the ministry's statement said.

"Any British Columbians who catch Atlantic salmon should report it to the federal government's Atlantic Salmon Watch program at 1-800-811-6010."

With a report from CTV Vancouver's Maria Weisgarber