Thousands of Atlantic salmon escape fish farm near Victoria after nets damaged

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Thousands of Atlantic salmon have escaped into Pacific waters east of Victoria after nets containing an estimated 305,000 fish were damaged at a U.S. fish farm in the San Juan Islands on Saturday.

The company, Cooke Aquaculture, blamed “exceptionally high tides and currents coinciding with this week’s solar eclipse” for the failure of the net pen near Cypress Island.

The nets “broke loose” from their anchor Saturday afternoon, said Ron Warren, assistant director of the fish program for the Washington Department of Fish Wildlife.

Warren said strong tidal flows — which are tied to the lunar cycles, not the eclipse itself — could be a factor in the damage, along with the amount of fish in the pens, which he estimated at more than 1.3-million kilograms.

“A lot of fish, a lot of weight … certainly could have aided in the compromise of the structure itself.”

Cypress Island fish farm

The net pens of Cooke Aquaculture’s Cypress Island fish farm can be seen on Google Earth, according to Washington state fisheries official Ron Warren. One of the structures, called Site 2 by the company, failed Saturday in part due to strong currents. (Google Earth)

In a statement on Monday, Cooke Aquaculture said it didn’t know how many fish escaped, but estimated it was “several thousand.” No company official was available for an interview on Tuesday.

Warren pinned early estimates at 4,000 to 5,000, but said the company still on Tuesday has not been able to anchor the net pens due to strong tidal currents.

Atlantic salmon are not native to Pacific waters, but are a major aquaculture species in Washington state and British Columbia.

Their presence in fish farms — and potential to escape from net cages — has been a hotly debated part of the West Coast fish farm industry for years, due to concerns about whether the foreign fish could cause harm to the five wild species of Pacific salmon.

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Thousands of Atlantic salmon escape fish farm near Victoria after nets damaged

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