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Monday, March 30, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Eclipse-assisted tides unleash net pen Atlantic salmon into Bellingham Bay

Diver Scott McNichol checks conditions inside an Atlantic salmon farming pen in Eastport, Maine. After nearly collapsing a few years ago, Maine’s salmon farming industry made a number of changes to make it healthier, more efficient and more in tune with the environment. Associated Press photos (Associated Press photos / The Spokesman-Review)
Diver Scott McNichol checks conditions inside an Atlantic salmon farming pen in Eastport, Maine. After nearly collapsing a few years ago, Maine’s salmon farming industry made a number of changes to make it healthier, more efficient and more in tune with the environment. Associated Press photos (Associated Press photos / The Spokesman-Review)

UPDATED with comment on suggestion that the eclipse influenced tides.

FISHING -- A week after wild fish activists announced a protest against net-pen fish farming in Puget Sound, the solar eclipse on Monday apparently contributed to tides that unleashed thousands of 10-pound Atlantic salmon into Bellingham Bay.

Tribes, sportsmen and scientists have long feared the potential for non-native Atlantic salmon mixing with Pacific salmon as well as the ramification of net-pen pollution.

Today anglers are being asked to help mop up a salmon spill from an imploded net holding 305,000 fish at a Cooke Aquaculture fish farm near Cypress Island.

The Seattle Times reports Lummi fishers out for chinook near Samish, south of Bellingham Bay, were surprised to pull up the Atlantic salmon – escapees that turned up in their nets again on Monday.  

A comment by a Cooke Aquaculture spokesman in the Times report that the solar eclipse or moon phase contributed to the net-pen escape has been challenged by several fishermen as well as in this Facebook post by Chase Gunnell of Conservation Northwest. Gunnell said he was speaking as an angler who fishes the area:

So either Cooke's placement of blame on eclipse tides indicates a gross failure to plan for a predictable natural event, or it's a load of BS. Those of us who fish in this area know how to read a tide-table in advance, know the winter and spring king tides are far stronger than those experienced this weekend, eclipse or no, and know that strong currents are the norm in this marine area. This was operator error, and the operator needs to be held accountable, especially as they have proposed to expand these Atlantic salmon net pens around our region.

Here's more via the Associated Press:

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. But Ron Warren, fish program assistant director for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the net had some 3 million pounds of fish in it when it imploded Saturday.

Warren said the spill was caused by tides pushed unusually high by Monday’s approaching total solar eclipse.

The department has been monitoring the situation and crafting a spill-response plan with Cooke.

Lummi fishers were incensed at the Atlantic salmon intruding in home waters of native Washington Pacific salmon. “It’s a devastation,” said Ellie Kinley, whose family has fished Puget Sound for generations. “We don’t want those fish preying on our baby salmon. And we don’t want them getting up in the rivers.”

G.I. James, a member of the Lummi Natural Resources staff and fish commission, said Pacific salmon face enough trouble as it is without dueling with invaders in their home waters. “It is potentially a disease issue, and impact on our fish, as dire a shape as they are in, right now any impact to them is difficult to absorb.”

Puget Soundkeeper issued a statement  saying Cooke Aquaculture needs to own up to mistakes, and the industry should be banned in Washington waters as it has by other states.

Following is the story from Sunday's Outdoors section regarding the upcoming net-pen protest:

Fish farming protest set in Puget Sound

Planned expansion of Atlantic salmon net pens in Puget Sound is being met with protest by wild fish proponents, who are organizing an anti-fish-farming flotilla off Bainbridge Island on Sept. 16.

“For three decades, Atlantic salmon net pens have been quietly operating in Puget Sound,” said Kurt Beardslee, executive director of the Wild Fish Conservancy. Now that the industry is poised to dramatically expand its operation in the Sound, the public is learning about the destructive record of net pens, locally and around the world.”

While fish farming has been banned in Alaska, California and Oregon waters, eight Atlantic salmon net pen facilities are sited in Puget Sound.

“Cooke Aquaculture is proposing to expand a new facility east of Port Angeles Harbor, directly in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, a major outmigration corridor for salmon of the Salish Sea,” Beardslee said in a release.

Atlantic salmon, which are not indigenous to the region, escape regularly from net pen and they can compete with wild Pacific salmon.

Net pens also are connected with the spread of parasites, viral outbreaks and pollution, Beardslee said.

Info: oursound-oursalmon.org.



Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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