Solar eclipse not to blame for massive fish farm escape: environmentalists

Click to play video: 'Thousands of salmon released after fish farm’s nets collapse in Washington state' Thousands of salmon released after fish farm’s nets collapse in Washington state
Clean up is underway in the San Juans after an accidental salmon release over the weekend. Officials say high tides damaged nets at this salmon farm near Cypress Island, releasing as many as 5000 Atlantic salmon into the water – Aug 23, 2017

Several thousand fish have escaped a fish farm near Seattle, and the company is blaming the prison break on the tides connected to the eclipse.

Cooke Aquaculture said in a release Monday that “exceptionally high tides and currents coinciding with this week’s solar eclipse” caused damage to a salmon farm near Cypress Island, Wash., located about 50 kilometres east of Victoria in the San Juan Islands.

That led to the release of about 4,000 to 5,000 Atlantic Salmon into the Pacific Ocean, Ron Warren, of the Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), said in a statement.

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Canadians are first to eat genetically modified salmon – Aug 8, 2017

Officials are urging the public to catch as many fish as possible.

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“Our first concern, of course, is to protect native fish species,” Warren, head of WDFW’s Fish Program, said. “So we’d like to see as many of these escaped fish caught as possible.”

Cooke Aquaculture said the structural damage to the net pen structure that normally houses 305,000 fish, happened around 4 p.m. on Saturday. They also said they were searching and trying to recapture the missing fish.

The release of so much farmed fish could be an “environmental nightmare,” Kurt Beardslee, the director of the Wild Fish Conservancy Northwest, told local radio station KUOW.

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

The WDFW said the Atlantic salmon is safe to eat.

Fin Donnelly, NDP MP for Port Moody-Coquitlam and Fisheries critic said he’s worried about the impact the farmed salmon will have on Canadian waters.

“I’m alarmed to hear thousands of farmed Atlantic salmon have escaped into our Pacific waters,” he said in an email to Global News.

“These events underscore the need for mandatory land-based, closed containment fish farms in order to protect our wild salmon fishery‎ and the integrity of the marine environment. The record low wild salmon returns will only get worse unless the Federal Liberals take meaningful action to save wild salmon, protect jobs and critical fish habitat.”

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Local fisherman and environmentalists are skeptical of Cooke’s reason for the net collapse, though. Though it said the high tides, which coincided with the eclipse, were to blame, activists said the tides were not out of the ordinary.

READ MORE: ‘Solar eclipse headache’ spikes in search after totality reaches U.S.

KUOW reports that the tide was predicted to be 7.9 feet at around 5 p.m. Saturday, an hour after the collapse. The same area has seen higher tides at least once a month for 2017. The tidal current was also “nothing unusual” for the area.

“They had the same issues a month ago, and they had to have crews come from the east coast and to fix these net pens,” Marine Affairs Specialist Molly Ogren told King 5 News in Seattle.

Those same environmental groups are protesting the expansion of the company in the area. Cooke Aquaculture wants to add more, bigger pens in the Puget Sound.

WATCH: Rally at Vancouver DFO offices after thousands of farmed salmon escape Washington State pen

Click to play video: 'Rally at Vancouver DFO offices against fish farms' Rally at Vancouver DFO offices against fish farms
Rally at Vancouver DFO offices against fish farms – Aug 23, 2017

Chris Wilke, executive director of Puget Soundkeeper, a nonprofit environmental group, called the explanation B.S. in an interview with the Seattle Times.

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“If they can’t be trusted in an accident like this how can they be trusted to tell the truth in the permitting process?”

WATCH: Full coverage of the solar eclipse on 

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