With hundreds of thousands of Atlantic salmon runaways swimming Puget Sound waters and threatening native Pacific salmon stocks, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is now blocking all permits for new net pens in the region.

Pens at Cooke Aquaculture's Cypress Island salmon farm failed earlier this month, causing what Kurt Beardslee, director of the Wild Fish Conservancy Northwest, is calling an “environmental nightmare.”

“The Atlantic salmon bring with them pollution, virus and parasite amplification, and all that harms Pacific salmon and our waters of Washington,” Beardslee said.

Cooke Aquaculture notified the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife of a net pen failure on Aug. 19, at its Cypress Island location, in the San Juan Islands. The farm held more than 300,000 fish. A day later, on Aug. 20, Swinomish fishermen reported that they'd already caught farmed Atlantic salmon in the Skagit River.

"The release of net pen-raised Atlantic salmon into Washington's waters has created an emergency situation that has state agencies working together to protect the health of our salmon," Inslee said in a statement.

Cooke Aquaculture has also been told it must stop additional escapes, recover escaped fish, and compensate those trying to recapture the fish.

Before the disaster, the company had sought to expand its commercial operations in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, with 14 new floating circular net pens that would increase production by 20 percent.

The project is currently in the permitting phase. Inslee’s directive will potentially squash it.

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