Cooke Aquaculture found to be at fault for Puget Sound net-pen failure

Washington State just closed its investigation of the Cypress Island net-pen failure that caused hundreds of thousands of farmed Atlantic salmon to pour into Puget Sound last August. It found that Cooke’s gross negligence of the net pens caused their collapse and the subsequent escape.

The state determined that more than 100 tons of mussels and plant life growing on the net pens, combined with extensive corrosion allowed normal currents to overpower the mooring and destroy the pens. Cooke was aware of the poor conditions prior to the failure.

We’ve also learned that the company issued false reports following the disaster, understating the number of salmon that made it into the Sound. In a news release, Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife North Puget Sound regional director Amy Windrope said, "Cooke made this situation even more difficult by under-reporting the number of fish that escaped during the net-pen collapse, and over-reporting the number it recovered afterward.”

CookeLantyTurns out that something in the neighborhood of 250,000 fish escaped, while Cooke reported only 160,000. The state estimates that at least 186,000 fish are still at large, which explains why steelhead anglers were still catching Atlantic salmon in the Skagit River until the Jan. 31 closure. (Drake staffers caught and killed three of the interloping Atlantics in the Skagit, near the town of Concrete, on Jan. 27.)

The Dept. of Natural Resources terminated Cooke’s contract in December, while the Dept. of Ecology plans to punish Cooke for violation of clean water laws. The Wild Fish Conservancy is also suing the company, arguing that the non-native fish are a pollutant.