Tribe declares emergency as escaped farmed Atlantic salmon spread into local waters

BELLINGHAM, Wash. -- The Lummi Nation on Thursday declared a state of emergency over the escape of up to 305,000 farmed Atlantic salmon into local waters.

A net holding 305,000 farmed Atlantic salmon at a Cooke Aquaculture fish farm near Cypress Island gave way last Saturday, sending the fish out into the waters around the San Juans.

"The tribe has not received confirmation that the Atlantic salmon spill has been contained, so we have to assume that the invasive fish continues to spill into these waters, putting the spawning grounds for native salmon species at risk," said Timothy Ballew II, chairman of the Lummi Nation Business Council.

"Lummi is encouraging its tribal fishermen to continue fishing the waters through the weekend in efforts to remove as many Atlantic salmon as possible. Tribal fishermen are currently fishing within Bellingham Bay and at the mouth of the Nooksack River to protect and help prevent native fish of the area from being eaten or exposed to disease.

"The Atlantic salmon spill must be addressed immediately by all levels of government," Ballew said.

The Seattle Times said Swinomish fishermen caught farmed Atlantic salmon in the Skagit River on Wednesday night and there was also a report of an Atlantic salmon caught off Alki Point on Thursday afternoon.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is urging the public to catch as many of the fish as possible, with no limit on size or number. The fish are about 10 pounds each.

No one knows yet how many escaped.  About 305,000 salmon were in the net pen at the time, though the company initially estimated that only 4,000-5,000 fish have escaped, WDFW's Ron Warren said.

“Our first concern, of course, is to protect native fish species,” Warren said. “So we’d like to see as many of these escaped fish caught as possible.”

Warren said there is no evidence that these fish pose a threat to native fish populations, either through disease or crossbreeding with Pacific salmon. To date, there is no record of Atlantic salmon successfully reproducing with Pacific salmon in Washington’s waters, he said.

“It will be some time before we know how many fish escaped the net pens,” Warren said. “That’s why we’ve authorized Cooke Aquaculture to fish with beach seine nets and we’re encouraging anglers to go out and harvest these fish.”

WDFW is asking anglers who catch Atlantic salmon that escaped from a salmon farm Aug. 19, 2017, near the San Juan Islands to report their catch. State fishery managers would like to track how many Atlantic salmon are recovered by sport anglers and how far those fish dispersed.