The ones that got away

The Pilot - - Editorial - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky’s col­umn ap­pears in 35 Salt Wire news­pa­pers and web­sites in At­lantic Canada. He can be reached at rwanger@thetele­; Twit­ter: @wanger­sky.

Turn a cor­ner in any num­ber of parts of the At­lantic prov­inces, and you might see them: the long buoy lines or square ocean cages of a grow­ing aqua­cul­ture in­dus­try.

They bring shell­fish and fin­fish to mar­ket, species grown fat and large by aquatic farm hus­bandry.

Mus­sels and oys­ters hang in socks from ropes be­neath buoys, salmon and some­times steel­head trout swim in cir­cles in ocean cages.

The mus­sels, how­ever, stay in one place, at­tached by the sticky strands know as byssus threads, their own spe­cial strong yet stretchy bungee cords. The oys­ters aren’t go­ing far, ei­ther, at least not after they turn from free-float­ing lar­vae to oys­ter seed.

But the fin­fish?

Well, they can be quite a bit more tran­si­tory, a fact that be­came particularly clear last week after a west coast salmon farm, filled with 300,000 fish weigh­ing three mil­lion pounds, came apart two week­ends ago. The farm was owned by Cooke Aqua­cul­ture Pa­cific, a sub­sidiary of New Brunswick’s Cooke Aqua­cul­ture, which now has op­er­a­tions in Canada, the U.S., Scot­land, Uruguay, Chile and Ar­gentina.

It’s not clear how many fish got away into Puget Sound, but fish­er­men are cur­rently al­lowed to take as many fish as they can catch, with the Wash­ing­ton Depart­ment of Fish and Wildlife say­ing in a state­ment, “State salmon man­agers are en­cour­ag­ing an­glers to fish for thou­sands of At­lantic salmon that es­caped re­cently from a salmon farm near the San Juan Is­lands.”

Putting fish into the oceans in pens is one thing: try­ing to find them after there’s been a cat­a­strophic pen col­lapse is some­thing else again. Most in­ter­est­ing? Per­haps that the stated cause of the col­lapse — an eclipse-re­lated tidal and cur­rent pulse over­whelm­ing the fa­cil­ity — might not have hap­pened. The com­pany said in a news re­lease that, “Ex­cep­tion­ally high tides and cur­rents caused dam­age to a salmon farm that has been in op­er­a­tion near Cy­press Is­land for ap­prox­i­mately 30 years.”

But con­sider these two para­graphs from a Seat­tle Times ar­ti­cle on tides the day of the col­lapse: “Parker MacCready, an oceanog­ra­pher at the Uni­ver­sity of Wash­ing­ton, noted tide data do not support the com­pany’s claim. ‘The data speak for them­selves: there were large tidal ranges around the day of the eclipse, but not out of the or­di­nary, and in fact they were smaller than dur­ing some re­cent months.’

“Jonathan White, au­thor of ‘Tides the Sci­ence and Spirit of the Ocean’ (Trin­ity Uni­ver­sity Press, 2017), said there were 105 tides this year as large or larger than those ex­pe­ri­enced over the week­end. ‘If they were not pre­pared for this tide, they were not pre­pared for any tide,’ he said.”

It’s a catas­tro­phe worth watch­ing, even as aqua­cul­ture ex­pan­sion con­tin­ues on this side of North Amer­ica. A sub­sidiary of a Nor­we­gian aqua­cul­ture gi­ant, Grieg NL, is plan­ning an un­prece­dent­edly large salmon ven­ture for New­found­land’s Pla­cen­tia Bay, and the gov­ern­ment of the prov­ince is go­ing back to court to try and over­turn a le­gal de­ci­sion re­quir­ing all as­pects of the project to un­dergo full en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment. The site would be one of the big­gest farmed salmon ven­tures in Canada, with a larger and newer cage tech­nol­ogy and a type of triploid salmon not grown in the re­gion be­fore.

Mean­while, Wash­ing­ton State’s gov­er­nor, Jay Inslee, has or­dered the state’s Depart­ment of Ecol­ogy to put all ap­pli­ca­tions for per­mits for salmon net-rear­ing cages on hold un­til fur­ther no­tice.

What do you need for safe aqua­cul­ture? The best and the most ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion pos­si­ble, up front and pub­lic and open for re­view. Reg­u­lar, on­go­ing and thor­ough in­spec­tions of the phys­i­cal as­pects of the fa­cil­i­ties, as well as their op­er­a­tions, meth­ods, and any treat­ment of their stock with drugs or other ma­te­ri­als.

You earn trust. You shouldn’t ex­pect it.

Aqua­cul­ture pens and lines may lie peace­ful in our wa­ters; gov­ern­ment over­sight can’t.

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