More than 100,000 salmon still on the loose after Cooke escape

Nearly a month after structural damage allowed hundreds of thousands of Atlantic salmon to escape from a Cooke Aquaculture fish farm on Cypress Island in Washington State, officials estimate that more than 100,000 of the salmon remain in the waters surrounding the island, The Bellingham Herald reported earlier this week. 

Although Washington State encouraged fishermen to catch the salmon after the “spill,” telling them that they could take home as many of the non-native species as they could without any need for a license, Lummi Nation officials estimated that only about 43,000 of the potentially 300,000 escaped fish have been caught. 

Cooke Aquaculture has not offered to buy back any of the salmon that the third-party fishermen have caught, leaving the fishermen with tens of thousands of pounds of frozen Atlantic salmon. 

Immediately after the spill, some marine biologists said they did not believe that the salmon would last long outside of captivity, and it is not clear whether the majority of the 100,000 remaining fish are alive or dead. 

In a press release, Lummi Nation Chairman Timothy Ballew II said, “Washington state law considers this invasive species a pollutant, and our hard-working fishermen have carried the burden of the cleanup efforts. They continue to do all they can.”

Experts believe that the farmed fish pose a risk to native species because they may spread disease and feed on the same food sources. However, others believe that they are more likely to be eaten than prey on native species such as sockeye and king salmon.

Cooke Aquaculture released a statement last weekend saying that the company was “deeply sorry about this event.”

While the event is being probed, The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife is not granting any permits on new Atlantic salmon nets or pens.


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