Lawmakers urge federal action on fish farm fiasco

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U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Patty Murray (D-WA), joined by Reps. Adam Smith (WA-09), Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Rick Larsen (WA-02), Derek Kilmer (WA-06), Denny Heck (WA-10), and Suzan DelBene (WA-01), wrote an urgent letter to the heads of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to press the two agencies to take quick and decisive action to address the impacts of hundreds of thousands of escaped farmed Atlantic salmon in Washington state waters.

Citing the importance of wild salmon fisheries to Tribes, fishermen, and ecosystems in the state, the members of Congress are calling on NOAA and the Army Corps to direct federal resources to mitigate the risks of this incident, including the capture of the escaped farmed salmon. The letter also calls on the Army Corps to work to stop all permitting for new net pens or expansions to existing pens, as well as prioritize requests to update or maintain existing pens.

“Pacific salmon are central to our economy, our culture, and our environment in the Pacific Northwest, and are a critical part of marine and estuarine ecosystems in Washington state,” the members wrote. “The released Atlantic salmon pose a threat to wild Pacific salmon, including multiple endangered and threatened stocks in the region. Tribes, fishermen, and state agencies are working to respond to the escapement but the scale of the release calls for immediate and direct federal response…”

The farmed salmon escaped from a damaged facility owned by Cooke Aquaculture on Aug. 19 and 20. Since the breach, farmed Atlantic salmon have been found as far afield as Canadian waters on the West side of Vancouver Island, as well as the Skagit and Nooksack Rivers. The released Atlantic salmon pose a threat to wild Pacific salmon, including multiple endangered and threatened stocks in the region. Farmed salmon tend to be larger and could outcompete wild salmon for critical resources such as prey and preferred habitat, which is important for spawning.

Tribes and federal and state agencies have worked tirelessly towards restoration of wild salmon populations in Puget Sound. At a time when stocks of many types of wild Pacific salmon are at historic lows, the escape of thousands of farmed salmon could be a devastating setback.

The members also asked the agency heads to conduct a review of the integrity and operation of all currently operating net pen structures to address concerns of further accidents at existing facilities.

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