Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Critics say the recent fish escape of the coast of B.C. and Washington state highlights potential risks of open-sea fish farming.

Dean Rutz

The collapse of a marine net pen holding more than 300,000 farmed Atlantic salmon on the Washington State coast has renewed a debate about the safety of fish farms and their potential impact on the region's ecosystem, although state officials caution there is no evidence the incident poses a threat to wild stocks.

The salmon were released over the weekend at a Cooke Aquaculture facility located about 40 kilometres east of Vancouver Island's southern tip. The company blamed the failure on especially high tides coinciding with Monday's solar eclipse.

It is still not clear just how many fish were released. In Canadian waters, there has been one unconfirmed report of possible Atlantic salmon, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans said.

Story continues below advertisement

Read more: Atlantic salmon escape U.S. fish farm near B.C. waters

Ron Warren, who heads the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's fish program, said there's no evidence the escaped fish pose a threat to native populations, through disease or crossbreeding with Pacific salmon.

Still, he said the state wants to protect native fish species and have urged anglers to catch as many escaped salmon, some up to 10 pounds, as possible.

Jill Rolland, who directs the U.S. Geological Survey's Western Fisheries Research Center in Seattle, said she's not concerned that the escaped fish have any pathogens that will spread to wild fish.

"We have a very strong regulatory environment to ensure that these fish are under veterinary care," she said.

Critics say the recent fish escape highlights potential risks of open-sea fish farming. They worry about water pollution from fish feed and the potential for farmed fish to spread diseases and parasites to wild fish.

"These are open-net pens. They're not isolated from surrounding environment," said Chris Wilke, executive director of the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, which opposes the project.

Story continues below advertisement

British Columbia and Washington each have the largest marine fin-fish aquaculture industries in Canada and the United States, respectively. B.C. produced about 93,000 tonnes of farmed salmon worth $470-million in 2015, according to statistics compiled by DFO. In Washington, the industry produces about 7,700 tonnes of Atlantic salmon each year, according to the state.

While salmon farms have operated for decades in both Washington and British Columbia, they still remain controversial in a region where wild salmon reigns supreme.

Alaska has banned commercial fin-fish aquaculture. Several counties in Washington, such as Whatcom County, have moved to limit commercial fin-fish aquaculture.

In British Columbia, opponents of the industry have repeatedly warned that open-water fish farms pose a risk to wild Pacific salmon, and the industry came under scrutiny during a federal public inquiry launched in the wake of the devastating collapse of salmon stocks along the Fraser River during the 2009 season. The head of the commission, retired judge Bruce Cohen, was unable to find a "smoking gun" to explain what happened, but he did urge the federal government to take steps to limit the impact of fish farms.

In the wake of the stock collapse, Ottawa imposed a temporary moratorium on new fish farms that has since been lifted.

DFO tracks reports of Atlantic salmon – considered an invasive species – off the West Coast. The department said it received a report on Wednesday about a large school of fish swimming near the surface, but it couldn't confirm if they were Atlantic salmon or if they were related to the Cooke Aquaculture fish farm.

Story continues below advertisement

Before this week, the department hadn't received any reports of Atlantic salmon since 2014, when one case was reported.

Michael Rust, science adviser with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's aquaculture office, said farmed salmon tend to be domesticated, raised on feed and not used to catching fish or escaping predators. Farmed salmon are more likely to be prey than predator, he said.

He and others note that advances in science and technology have improved fish-farming practices in the United States over the decades and aquaculture operations must meet strict regulations.

The release at Cooke Aquaculture's facility comes as the company is proposing a new expanded commercial facility in the Strait of Juan de Fuca in Washington State.

Canada-based Cooke, which operates five salmon farms in Washington that it acquired last year, would build 14 floating circular net pens about 1.6 kilometres offshore. It would move current operations from Port Angeles Harbour and increase production by 20 per cent. The project is in the permitting phase.

Cooke blamed high tides and currents coinciding with Monday's solar eclipse for the failure over the weekend at its farm off Cypress Island in Skagit County, Wash.

Story continues below advertisement

"The ongoing tides were a huge challenge," said Nell Halse, a Cooke spokeswoman. She said the company called in experts last month to stabilize the salmon farm during high tides, although no fish escaped then. "We put our best expertise to stabilizing this farm and we had no reason to believe that it would have collapsed on Sunday."

salmon 2
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies