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Agency OKs Moving Atlantic Salmon Smolts Into Bainbridge Netpen

A month and a half after a commercial netpen failed elsewhere in Puget Sound, state regulators have approved a shipment of 1 million young Atlantic salmon into another floating enclosure here.

WDFW says that Cooke Aquaculture’s facilities in the Bremerton area’s Rich Passage — the site of a protest flotilla in mid-September — were inspected by the Departments of Ecology and Natural Resources and “met structural, water quality, and fish health requirements.”

FARMED ATLANTIC SALMON FROM NORWAY OFFERED FOR SALE AT THE SHORELINE COSTCO RECENTLY; IT WAS PUT BACK IN THE COLD CASE IN HOPES THE EDITOR WOULD CATCH A COHO FOR DINNER INSTEAD. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The agency issued a transportation permit to the company late Monday.

While Governor Jay Inslee has banned permitting new netpens during investigations into why the international conglomerate’s Cypress Island operation broke up in mid-August — there are indications of aging equipment due to be replaced — state laws didn’t preclude moving the “healthy” 12- to 16-month-old fish into another enclosure, according to WDFW.

Cooke had applied in late August to transport the Atlantics from its rearing ponds in Rochester south of Olympia to Clam Bay, even as efforts to capture their 160,000 or so 8- to 10-pound adult escapees were ongoing in the San Juans.

A press release from the Governor’s Office said that Inslee is “very concerned” about the transfer, and called it “disappointing and frustrating” in light of August’s events.

He said his office had asked Cooke to withdraw the permit application “for our tribes, for our citizens, for our environment and for the industry’s long-term prospects.”

Around 305,000 of the market fish were being finished in the Cypress netpens this summer, and 140,000 were recovered inside them after the failure.

Through last week tribal fishermen have netted around 50,000, while hook-and-line anglers reported catching nearly 1,950, with another 3,000 or so caught by nontribal commercial fishermen.

This isn’t to say Atlantics don’t pale in comparison — and in more ways than one — to native Pacific salmon, but the breakout led to numerous wild claims about the fish.

A Sept. 11 initial assessment and Sept. 14 update found Cooke’s fish were “healthy” when the incident occurred, weren’t faring well in Puget Sound based on signs of anorexia, the stomachs of tribally sampled fish were “empty” and no signs of fish pathogens had been found in salmon recovered early on.

There was, however, an interesting note in that report: “Necropsy findings indicate an active inflammatory process of unknown origin originating in the gastrointestinal tract in the later September capture group.”

Neither large escapes from netpens in the 1990s nor directed stocking efforts in the 1980s resulted in breeding populations of the nonnative salmon in Puget Sound rivers.

Cooke will move the young Atlantics from the hatchery to netpen through the fall, according to WDFW, and they will be grown there until mid- to late 2019 before they are harvested.

Editor’s note: An earlier version reported the age of the Atlantics being moved from rearing ponds to Clam Bay as 2 years old, but subsequent information has come in that they will be a year to 16 months old.