BELLINGHAM, Wash. -- Members of the public in Washington state are being asked to help mop up a spill of Atlantic salmon from an imploded net holding 305,000 fish at a Cooke Aquaculture fish farm near Cypress Island.
Washington state's Department of Fish and Wildlife is urging the public to catch as many of the fish as possible after Lummi fishers out for chinook on Sunday near Samish were surprised to pull up the Atlantic salmon -- escapees that turned up in their nets again on Monday.
The fish are about 4.5 kilograms each and the department is asking people to catch them with no limit on size or number.
No one knows yet how many escaped, but Ron Warren of Fish and Wildlife said the net had some 1,360 tonnes 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 New Brunswick-based Cooke Aquaculture.
The company could not be reached for comment but on its website it says Atlantic salmon "have safely and sustainably grown" in Puget Sound for more than 30 years in waters that is says are "ideal" for growing the fish.
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 duelling 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."
The federal NDP's critic for fisheries and oceans said the incident shows a different approach is needed to acquaculture.
"I'm alarmed to hear thousands of farmed Atlantic salmon have escaped into our Pacific waters," said Fin Donnelly, the MP for the B.C. riding of Port Moody-Coquitlam. "These events underscore the need for mandatory land-based, closed containment fish farms in order to protect our wild salmon fishery and the integrity of the marine environment."
Atlantic salmon are also raised in fish farms in British Columbia.
With files from The Canadian Press