Thousands of farm-raised Atlantic salmon are now swimming freely through Puget Sound after an open-net pen off the San Juan Islands failed Saturday. The company in charge of the fish farm is blaming Monday’s total eclipse for the incident, but environmentalists, the media, and others aren’t buying it.
The pen is operated by Cooke Aquaculture and contained as many as 305,000 salmon. Company officials told Seattle’s KOMO News that they believe the “exceptionally high tides and currents coinciding with this week’s solar eclipse” caused the pen’s failure, leading to an estimated 5,000 fish being released into the sound. However, government officials say there is no way to tell how many fish were actually released until the final catch count is known.
It’s a bittersweet occurrence for local anglers. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is urging everyone to catch all the Atlantics they come across, with no size or bag limit in place. Many anglers are doing so, but the risk the roughly ten-pound fish pose to native salmon species is still unknown. There is no known interbreeding of Atlantic and Pacific salmon in the wild, and Cooke Aquaculture assures the public its fish are disease-free, but the introduction of a non-native species into an area is rarely a positive experience.
Atlantic salmon were first introduced to the Pacific around 1905; within 30 years 8.6 million had been released into the waters. Ironically, wild Atlantic salmon are in danger of extirpation from their native range on the East Coast.
Here’s video of the broken pen from Seattle’s KIRO 7 News: