When you hear about a “spill” in a waterway, you might picture waste products or some kind of noxious liquid. In Washington state, though, the state is asking for the public’s help in cleaning up a massive and very problematic spill of live salmon from an aquaculture farm north of Seattle.
The Great Salmon Escape Caper
The company behind the farm, Cooke Aquaculture, told the Seattle Times that unusual tide activity related to Monday’s solar eclipse caused a breach in the pen where the fish are kept.
The farm and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife don’t know how many fish escaped from the pen, which held 305,000 fish, or 3 million pounds, of Atlantic salmon that aren’t native to the area, and aren’t equipped to survive.
The farm and wildlife authorities won’t know how many fish escaped until the upcoming harvest, when the fish will be inventoried. Their best guess is that 3,000 to 4,000 fish escaped.
Cooke is in the process of applying for a permit to run another farm where fish are kept in net pens, and the spill does not give opponents of that plan any reason any more confidence in the company.
“If they can’t be trusted in an accident like this how can they be trusted to tell the truth in the permitting process?” one environmental activist asked the Times. The same activist called the company’s explanation for the broken net “B.S.,” since pens should be built to withstand high tides.
One of these fish just doesn’t belong
Although they don’t have exact numbers on how many fish escaped, officials do know that the water is full of salmon that don’t belong there, and they’re hoping that fishers will pitch in and help catch the invaders as quickly as they can. As long as they catch Atlantic salmon, people who already hold fishing licenses for this year are welcome to catch as many fish as they want at any weight. The state has published a handy guide to identifying Atlantic salmon.
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A spokeswoman for fish farming firm Cooke stood by the company’s story, and emphasized that the Atlantic salmon will not be an invasive species. They cannot interbreed with the King salmon that the Northwest is known for, and aren’t equipped to survive in the wild.
“It’s primarily a business loss,” she said. “The salmon will be food for the seals and the fishermen can enjoy them.”
A researcher with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration agreed with this assessment, telling the Times that the fish are, as salmon go, couch potatoes.
“They are domesticated,” he said. “Imagine a dairy cow getting lost out in the Serengeti. It doesn’t last very long.”
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Consumerist.