Impact of Massive Fish Escape Might Not Be Known for Years

Nets holding 305,000 Atlantic salmon collapsed
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 30, 2017 11:59 AM CDT
Updated Aug 30, 2017 11:59 PM CDT
Massive Salmon Escape Could Threaten Wild Population
In this Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017 photo, Riley Starks of Lummi Island Wild shows three of the farm raised Atlantic salmon he caught alongside four Kings in Point Williams, Wash. A marine net pen holding 305,000 farmed Atlantic salmon collapsed recently, releasing thousands of fish into Puget Sound.   (Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times via AP)

More than a week after a major net failure at a salmon farm near Seattle, it's still unclear how many fish escaped and what the damage to the surrounding ecosystem could be. The Cook Aquaculture fish farm was damaged on Aug. 19, and the extensive grid of nets holding 305,0000 Atlantic salmon collapsed the following day, reports Scientific American. The company released a statement blaming "exceptionally high tides and currents coinciding with [the Aug. 21] solar eclipse," but scientists are raising eyebrows. "The thing about tides is that they’re just marvelously predictable," one tidal energy expert says. Another tells Inverse that this tide was at the 45th percentile for 2017, suggesting much bigger ones to come.

Whatever is at fault, commercial fishers like Ellie Kinley, a member of the coastal tribe Lummi Nation, worry that the 10-pound farmed fish threaten the smaller native Pacific salmon already losing habitat to hydropower. "The timing couldn’t be worse because our baby chinooks are coming out of the river," she says. Farmed fish can also spread parasites and diseases. The true extent of the damage done by however many fish managed to escape won't likely be seen for several years, when today's young population matures. For now, Washington, which has the most net-pen salmon farms in the country, is rethinking fish farms, per the Spokesman-Review. (Data suggests that neither the tide nor the water current or wind speeds were unusually high when the nets malfunctioned.)

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