Mass fish escape puts salmon farm on hold

Net-pen failure pauses application process for facility

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SEATTLE — Officials have put on hold Cooke Aquaculture’s application to build a new marine salmon farm in the Strait of Juan de Fuca as the company deals with the escape of thousands of fish from another facility.

Canada-based Cooke Aquaculture asked for a postponement for an upcoming hearing for a project permit, said Clallam County planning manager Steve Gray.

“Given the circumstance, we mutually agreed that that would be best,” he said.

Cooke’s net-pen holding about 305,000 Atlantic salmon in Skagit County failed Aug. 19.

Thousands of the non-native fish have escaped into local rivers and waterways, raising concerns about its potential impact on native salmon.

State and tribal officials have urged people to catch as many as possible to protect native stocks of wild salmon. The Lummi Nation last week declared a state of emergency.

Over the weekend Gov. Jay Inslee placed a moratorium on net pen permits until an investigation into the mishap is completed.

Canada-based Cooke is proposing to build 14 floating circular net pens about 1.5 miles offshore.

It would move current operations from Port Angeles Harbor and increase production by 20 percent. The company operates eight salmon farms in the state that it acquired last year.

The project requires several permits from local, state and federal agencies.

The company asked that a Sept. 7 hearing before the Clallam County hearing examiner be canceled to allow it to focus on the emergency response effort, Gray said. It also wanted to work with the county to evaluate next steps for its permit application.

“We will certainly look at any new information that comes out of the Cypress Island investigation by the state,” said Clallam County’s Gray.

“That kind of information can be looked at if there’s relevance to this proposal.”

Cooke has recovered about 141,600 salmon, state officials who mobilized a joint command response to the escape over the weekend said Wednesday.

The Lummi tribe said its anglers have caught another 20,000 fish.

Cooke and its salvage contractor have removed three nets from the damaged site off Cypress Island farm.

The facility, which has been operating for more than 30 years, produces about 3.1 million pounds of fish each year.

Crews planned Wednesday to pump more fish out of the system and remove another net, according to state officials.