Tag Archives: Cypress Island

Atlantic Salmon Suck. So Does All The BS Around Them

I am not pro-Atlantic salmon. I am not pro-netpen. I am not pro-Cooke Aquaculture. But I am anti-bullshit.

My bullshitometer has been going off for six months now, but recently it just got too deep for me to tolerate any longer without comment.


The Wild Fish Conservancy’s hysterical claim last week that Cooke’s escapees from the Cypress Island fish farm are ridden with an exotic virus strikes me as not unlike what I have heard repeatedly from the darkest recesses of the Northwest wolf world.

It goes along the lines of, Those non-native Canadian wolves USFWS brought down are infected with hydatid disease and rural people are in danger of catching it from all the wolf poo piles now lying around the woods!!!

WFC’s press release announcing this supposed disaster came with a raft of citations, but afterwards they appeared to be the equivalent of weblinks to wolf haters’ usual references from Russia and whatever.

They were systematically batted away by WDFW in a strident response noting that the virus, PRV, has been known to exist here since 1987, is found in salmon from Alaska south to Washington if not beyond, and is carried by netpen and free-swimming fish alike. The disease that WFC fretted it can cause isn’t found in our salmon and only some penned Atlantics. Nor is it fatal.

Not unlike most of the vitriol that the rabid anti-lupus set hurls from their keyboards, it appears that WFC’s claim was actually a sheep in wolf’s clothing.

It was fear-mongering by the Duvall-based organization, plain and simple, written to make it look as if the state agency in charge of monitoring fish disease didn’t know what the hell it was doing and released at a key moment during the legislative session to chivvy lawmakers to an even more rushed decision on the fate of salmon aquaculture in Washington.

WFC hasn’t apologized to WDFW, nor is it likely — in fact, this morning, they doubled down with a new press release.

Yet what is likely is they’ll probably be able to leverage the widespread initial coverage of their claims and get away with the less-than-damning subsequent reporting, positioning themselves well in this world for coming jihads.

Again, I want to stress that I am no friend of Cooke, netpens or Atlantics.

The company could grow salmon that taste like Cool Ranch Doritos and I’d still turn my nose up at the flesh — a friend who caught one last month on the Skykomish claimed “it was good,” but to this provincial Northwest Chinook, coho, sockeye and steelhead snob, that meat doesn’t cut.


Netpens pollute. If they were new housing developments, we’d require sewer hookups or better ways to treat all that fish waste rather than let it drift in the currents or settle on the bottom of an inland sea that doesn’t flush itself very well in places.

And I’m skeptical of Cooke’s claims it was going to upgrade the aging equipment that came over from Icicle Seafoods when it bought them out. Would they really have if they hadn’t been caught with their hands in the cookie jar?

But this whole thing has been an embarrassment, and I include everything from the Canadian company’s August-eclipse-tides excuse and its shellfish-and seaweed-covered nets that acted as underwater sails and caused the catastrophe to the theory the escapees were just going to starve and die to Hilary Franz’s surprise Sunday morning termination determination on the Cypress Island facility to the latest pseudoscience from WFC.

For the last month and a half state legislators have been tripping all over themselves trying to outlaw farming a species that realistically poses little to no threat to our native salmon stocks, yet couldn’t get the one bill that would have assured that — allowing only female Atlantics to be reared — out of committee.

I can’t be the only one wondering, what exactly is behind all this? What big game is being played here? Who stands to gain the most?

And worrying, when will all this negative energy be focused on something that I actually do care about?

WDFW Refutes Wild Fish Conservancy’s Latest Atlantic Salmon Claims

Last night’s Wild Fish Conservancy press release stating that “contrary to” WDFW statements, Northwest salmon face dire consequences from “a highly contagious and harmful virus” in escaped netpen fish is overblown, riddled with errors and misrepresentative.

So says the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in a blistering rebuttal to the Duvall outfit’s claim that a lab it had sent 19 Atlantic salmon to found all of them to be infected with an exotic strain of a fish virus, which WFC suggested could spread a disease that weakens our native salmon.


The nonnative salmon reared for the table in sea enclosures have become a hot-button issue in Washington and across the border in British Columbia as tribal interests, certain state agencies and legislators and special interest groups try to push them out of Northwest waters using whatever means possible, fair and otherwise.

This is also not the first rodeo for WDFW and the Wild Fish Conservancy, which sued the state in 2014 in an attempt to end consumptive steelheading in Puget Sound, and which has attacked hatchery salmon production elsewhere.

Their latest move calls into question WDFW’s science and its word, and so the agency tasked Ken Warheit, its fish and genetic specialist, to respond to WFC’s claims. He begins with four bullet points.

“The Wild Fish Conservancy’s news release confuses the virus (PRV) with the disease (HSMI), misuses the scientific literature to exaggerate risks to native salmon, and fails to find a single study to support the claim that PRV from open-water pens will harm wild fish,” reads Warheit’s statement.

“The Conservancy asserts – without evidence – that HSMI will harm wild salmon. However, HSMI has never been detected in our native salmon or any other fish except farmed Atlantic salmon,” Warheit continues.

“PRV occurs naturally and was first confirmed in the Salish Sea from fish samples taken in 1987. The Conservancy provides no data or scientific research to support its claim that the PRV found in escaped fish originated in Norway,” he says.

And Warheit adds that PRV isn’t even recognized as a “pathogen of concern” currently by the World Organization for Animal Health.

Warheit then takes the Wild Fish Conservancy’s press release apart line by line, as well as counters the organization claim that WDFW’s Amy Windrope misled the public during a late January press conference with DNR and the Department of Ecology when she reported the Atlantic salmon had been healthy when they’d gotten loose.

In that release, WFC’s “outraged” Kurt Beardslee said “I’m outraged this disease is being amplified into our public waters, and I’m outraged our state agencies are willfully misleading the public. When the public finds out about this atrocity, they will be outraged as well. Wild salmon are the environmental, social, economic, and cultural cornerstone of this region, we can’t afford to put them at greater risk. We need to take corrective actions and remove this dangerous industry from Puget Sound before it’s too late.”

However, Warheit states that, “WDFW never claimed that PRV was not present in escaped Atlantic salmon. In fact, in the state’s report investigating the Cypress #2 accident, WDFW was the first to report the presence of PRV in the escaped Atlantic salmon. Ms. Amy Windrope’s quote that appeared in WFC’s press release was accurate and subsequent statements at the press briefing specifically dealt with the presence of PRV and stated that WDFW found PRV in the escaped Atlantic salmon. None of the escaped Atlantic salmon with PRV examined by WDFW had HSMI.”

He says that PRV is not only present in netpen salmon but free-swimming ones as well from Alaska south to Washington, if not further down the West Coast.

“In most cases, fish with PRV are healthy, and show no signs of disease,” Warheit says. “The syndrome HSMI has been associated with PRV in Atlantic salmon aquaculture only. HSMI affects only a small subset of captive Atlantic salmon with PRV and in most cases HSMI is not fatal.”

To back that up, he points to a white paper prepared last September by the Pacific Northwest Fish Health Protection Committee’s TR Meyers of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

But Warheit states that several of WFC’s citations either don’t support the organizations’s claims, are misused or are speculative.

“… Although PRV genetic sequences from eastern Pacific closely resemble that from Norway, there are differences between these sets of sequences, and it would have been more informative if WFC provided information about the sequences, rather than speculating about the origin of the PRV found in the escaped Atlantic salmon,” he states.

Meanwhile, bills banning new Atlantic netpen operations have been passed in the state Legislature and a couple weekends ago, DNR’s Hillary Franz terminated Cooke Aquaculture’s Cypress Island lease, where all this began back in August.

Cooke Disputes Washington Agencies’ Report On Netpen Escapee Numbers


Cooke Aquaculture Pacific on Tuesday criticized the state’s multi-agency draft report on the Cypress Island net pen collapse, pointing out numerous factual inaccuracies that led investigators to leap to erroneous conclusions.


“Cooke Aquaculture was shut out of this investigation by the state agencies,” said Joel Richardson, vice president of public relations at Cooke, Inc. “As a result, investigators with limited experience in aquaculture or net-pen operations have produced an inaccurate and misleading document that appears to be intended to fuel the push by aquaculture opponents to put Cooke out of business in Washington state.”

Notably, the state accused Cooke of overestimating the number of fish it recovered from the collapsed nets. In fact, Cooke employees counted each fish as it was recovered under the state’s supervision. The report’s estimate, meanwhile, was based on a flawed estimate of the average weight of the recovered fish.

The report, “2017 Cypress Island Atlantic Salmon Net Pen Failure: An Investigation and Review” was compiled by the state’s Ecology, Fish & Wildlife, and Natural Resources departments. The final report is slated for release today at an 11 a.m. news conference timed to influence the Legislature’s ongoing deliberations about bills related to aquaculture, including proposals that would effectively ban salmon farming in Washington.

Cooke Aquaculture Pacific was given just three days to provide feedback on a 266-page draft – a review period that ran from Friday to Monday – and was instructed not to dispute the report’s analysis or conclusions. Today’s press conference was announced three hours after the agencies received Cooke’s comments.

“We provided substantive comment back to the agencies under an unfairly brief timeline to address the report’s major factual errors and omissions about what occurred at our facility last August,” said Richardson. “We cooperated fully with the investigation and stood ready to provide expertise, background and context to help the investigators in their work. Unfortunately, we don’t believe the public or lawmakers are getting a complete and accurate picture from this report.”

The after-the-fact questioning of Cooke’s accounting of fish removed from the net pen structure is the most egregious – but not only – example of the report’s inaccuracy.

“The same people that supervised and approved the counting of the fish created this new analysis, based on back-of-the-envelope math involving the capacity of a tender vessel and the ridiculous notion that the recovered fish weighed 7 pounds apiece,” Richardson said. “As the photographs in the report itself show, many of the fish were severely damaged by the time they were recovered and would have been far lighter.”

Another example of the report’s inaccuracy is the blanket assumptions about the condition of the nets.

“We acknowledge that the site fell behind in net hygiene prior to the mooring failures in July. However, Cooke provided the investigators extensive documentation of the washing performed at Site 2 after the July incident,” Richardson explained. “Although the report is correct that mussels were present in the bottom of the nets, the investigative panel lacked the expertise to make that judgment about the relationship between fouling and drag and did not rely upon alternate expertise when forming the conclusions reflected in the report.”

Cooke endeavoured to cooperate with the investigation from its inception but was excluded from meaningful participation after only a few weeks. While Cooke was excluded, two Native American tribes which have repeatedly called for the ban of Cooke’s operations were given full access to the process and allowed to provide comments and observations during the deliberations.

“Excluding Cooke but including net-pen opponents stacks the deck against Cooke,” said Richardson. “Tribes, lawmakers, Cooke, the public – we all deserve to know the truth, and this report should be driven by a full and accurate understanding of the facts. Unfortunately, this document is neither accurate nor objective.”

Cooke responded to the draft report on Monday morning with a thirteen-page letter highlighting its glaring inaccuracies. Slightly more than three hours later, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz called today’s news conference, demonstrating that the agencies never intended to evaluate or respond to Cooke’s legitimate concerns.

State Agencies Pin Atlantic Salmon Netpen Collapse On ‘Cooke’s Negligence’


State investigators have determined that an excessive buildup of mussels and other marine organisms on nets – caused by Cooke Aquaculture’s failure to properly clean them – led to the August 19 collapse of the company’s net pen at Cypress Island.


An investigative report – authored by the departments of Natural Resources (DNR), Ecology, and Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) – found that 110 tons of mussels and plants had accumulated on the nets before the incident. The report was released today at a news conference in Olympia.

The investigation determined that tidal currents pushing against the tremendous mass of organisms on the nets overwhelmed the pen’s mooring system and crushed the pen.

Extensive corrosion of the net pen structure also contributed to the collapse.

In addition, the agencies identified shortcomings in engineering practices that likely contributed to the failure.

Properly designed and maintained net pens would have withstood the tidal currents of August 19.

“The collapse was not the result of natural causes,” said Hilary Franz, Commissioner of Public Lands. “Cooke’s disregard caused this disaster and recklessly put our state’s aquatic ecosystem at risk.”

“The results of our investigative report clearly show a significant violation of Washington’s water quality laws,” said Ecology Director Maia Bellon. “Cooke Aquaculture could have prevented this failure.”


“Cooke made this situation even more difficult by under-reporting the number of fish that escaped during the net-pen collapse, and over-reporting the number it recovered afterward,” said Amy Windrope, WDFW’s north Puget Sound regional director.

Growth of mussels and other marine organisms on nets – called “biofouling” – is documented in state agency videos that show a “rain” of mussels falling off nets as debris from the collapse was removed.

The severe biofouling produced 110 tons of material – an average of 11 tons per net.

Cooke’s Failure to Act

Prior to the collapse, Cooke was aware of both the excessive biofouling and the poor condition of the facility.

The report details how Cooke didn’t follow its net pen cleaning schedule when broken net washers were not repaired or replaced. This allowed mussels to accumulate on the nets, which increased the drag from currents and added pressure to the structure.

Cooke also failed to take necessary precautions after the net pens were moved out of position in July when strong currents broke ten mooring points.

Cooke documents show that after the July incident, the company had serious concerns about the facility. An internal company email stated, “We almost lost the farm.”

Nevertheless, after the July incident, Cooke considered, but did not:

  • Replace the biofouled nets,
  • Begin their salmon harvest early, or
  • Increase monitoring of the net pens and have a tug on standby when strong currents were again expected on August 19.

The report notes that state agencies did not investigate the July incident because they received incomplete and misleading information from Cooke.

More Salmon Escaped Than Cooke Reported

The report also found that Cooke misrepresented the number of fish it harvested when the pen collapsed. According to the report:

  • There were 305,000 fish in the net pen prior to failure.
  • Cooke reported harvesting/extracting 145,000 fish from the collapsed net pen.
  • The investigation concluded that Cooke could only have extracted between 42,000 and 62,000 fish.
  • Therefore, between 243,000 and 263,000 fish actually escaped. Previous estimates, based on Cooke’s reports, put the number of escaped fish at 160,000.
  • Of the escaped fish, 57,000 have been caught.
  • Between 186,000 and 206,000 Atlantic salmon remain unaccounted for.

The report concludes that monitoring through the winter and next fall’s salmon run season will be critical to knowing if any escaped Atlantic salmon remain in Washington’s waters and if they are reproducing.

Commissioner Franz is currently reviewing the report and will make an announcement about the future of the Cypress Island facility in the coming days.

In December, DNR terminated Cooke’s lease of state aquatic lands in Port Angeles, citing a failure to maintain the facility in a safe condition.

Ecology intends to take enforcement action against Cooke Aquaculture for violating Washington’s water quality laws.

This multi-agency report included information collected during and after the incident, interviews with Cooke staff, and an engineering review of the failure.

More documents and information is available at www.dnr.wa.gov/atlanticsalmon

Atlantic Salmon Escape Fish Farm; Some Caught In B’ham Bay

UPDATED 10 A.M. 8-22-17

Atlantic salmon have escaped from a net pen on the east side of the San Juan Islands where they were being raised for market.

Strong pre-clipse tides are blamed for allowing the Cooke Aquaculture fish to get loose last weekend, with some turning up pretty quickly in Lummi fishermen’s catches.

The pen held 300,000 fish but a statement from Cooke says that “many” are still in the net. The Seattle Times says the company reports the loss at several thousand fish though it won’t be known for some time what the true scale is.

The news comes a week after a group announced plans to hold a flotilla protest in September elsewhere in Puget Sound, where other fish farms rearing the nonnative species are located and being proposed.

For more, see this Lynda V. Mapes piece in The Seattle Times. http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/environment/oops-after-accidental-release-of-atlantic-salmon-fisherman-being-told-catch-as-many-as-you-want/

Here’s the latest from WDFW:

Here is an update on the Atlantic Salmon escaping a net pen in the San Juan Islands (Cypress Island).  Cooke Aquaculture has several pens out there where they understood a collapse occurred (strong tides) and fish escaped over the weekend.  There is no confirmation on the numbers that got out as they are harvesting the pens as we speak to help assess the number that escaped.  The floating net pen had a capacity of about 300k, with some first estimates of 4k that escaped, though there are no current estimates of escaped fish.  Fish were reported being caught in Bellingham Bay this morning.

WDFW’s authority to the net pen operation is with regards to fish health.  With these fish escaping, they are immediately available for harvest as we already had rules in place from past experiences to allow no limits or minimum size limits.

Here is the WAC that pertains to the limits for Atlantic Salmon, which means as long as your salmon limit isn’t filled for the day, you can fish and retain as many Atlantic Salmon as you can catch (and harvest).  You do not need to record these on your catch record card.


WAC 220-313-080 Atlantic salmon.

It is unlawful to fish for or possess Atlantic salmon except as provided in this section.

(1) There is no minimum size limit for Atlantic salmon taken from anadromous water, and no daily or possession limit.

(2) Atlantic salmon may be taken from all anadromous waters open to trout fishing under Title 77RCW except marine waters that are not open to salmon fishing under this title, and may be taken from all anadromous waters open to salmon fishing for salmon other than Atlantic salmon.

(3) Once the daily limit of salmon other than Atlantic salmon has been retained, it is unlawful to continue to fish for Atlantic salmon or salmon other than Atlantic salmon.

Again if you know of any methods that work to catch these fish, please let me know so I can distribute that information.  Here are several Atlantic Salmon species pages on the WDFW site:http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/salmon/atlantic.html    http://wdfw.wa.gov/ais/salmo_salar/