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Eclipse’s High Tides Blamed For Spill Of Farmed Atlantic Salmon Into Salish Sea

Robert F. Bukaty
AP Photo
Farm-raised Atlantic salmon move across a conveyor belt by Cooke Aquaculture near Eastport, Maine. The company says damage by strong tides from Monday's eclipse caused the escape of Atlantic salmon at their facility in the San Juans at Cypress Island.

This story was updated at 3:09 p.m. Friday, Aug. 25.  See correction below.

Along with cooling the air and dimming skies in the region, this week’s solar eclipse caused high tides. The resulting currents damaged a net pen and released unknown numbers of farmed Atlantic salmon into open waters south of the San Juan Islands.

The state is calling on the public to help catch them.   

Strong tidal exchanges damaged net pens late Saturday at Cypress Island in the San Juans, where Cooke Aquaculture farms Atlantic salmon. Ron Warren with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife says he saw photos of the damage.

“And it looked like a hurricane hit this net pen. And there are still fish sub-surface you can see trapped within the site, but the steel walkways are just mangled,” he said.

The company reported the release of at least 4,000 adult fish, but they were having trouble assessing the damage completely.  

Warren says Lummi tribal fishermen had already spotted some of the farmed salmon on Sunday all the way South of Bellingham Bay, near Samish.  

“What we don’t want is these fish to continue to mingle all over Puget Sound,” he said, explaining there’s concern the farmed fish will eat food that is needed by endangered species such as Puget Sound Chinook and Steelhead.

“And we certainly don’t want them to enter the river systems and compete for spawning areas in those river systems in Puget Sound,” he said.

That’s why Fish and Wildlife is urging the public to help catch them.

There’s no limit on size or number and most of the salmon weigh about ten pounds. Warren says it’s a simple message to catch and take as many as possible.

“I’m hoping that people are out fishing and if they do bring an Atlantic to the boat, keep it and take it home and have it for dinner,” he said.

Atlantic salmon can be recognized by the distinctive large black spots on their gill cover, which Pacific salmon and steelhead lack.

Warren says he expects the fish to spread out all over the region, so you can look for them as far south as the Green River and as far north as British Columbia.

He says the department has never seen Atlantic salmon crossbreeding with native populations in western Washington, but they’d rather not test that theory now.

Correction: While tides were high in the run up to the solar eclipse, the company's characterization of them as "exceptional" is not accurate, as originally stated in this story.  Tides have been higher at other times this year.  We apologize for the error.