Wild Fish Conservancy protest planned at Bainbridge Island fish farm

Pens are owned by same company that owns collapsed pens off Cypress Island

BAINBRIDGE ISLAND — Boats led by the Wild Fish Conservancy will protest net-pen farming of Atlantic salmon from 2-4 p.m. Sept. 16 in Rich Passage.

The fish farm on Rich Passage, visible from Fort Ward Park, is owned and operated by Cooke Aquaculture, which also operates Atlantic salmon farms at Cypress Island, Port Angeles, and Hope Island. According to its website, Cooke also operates fish farms in Maine, Chile, Scotland, and Spain; as well as fisheries in Alaska, Virginia, Argentina, and Uruguay.

Cooke’s Cypress Island pens collapsed late last month, releasing thousands of non-native Atlantic salmon into the Salish Sea. Opponents of fish farming say those Atlantic salmon will compete with already endangered native salmon for food and spawning grounds.

Kurt Beardslee, executive director of Wild Fish Conservancy, said the threats from farmed salmon go beyond large-scale escapes.

“The reason we chose Bainbridge was, in 2012, there was the largest IHN outbreak on the entire coast — that’s a deadly salmon virus — that spread to all three of those pens during that event, and it happened right during juvenile salmon out-migration,” Beardslee said. “It’s just things like that event, and this massive escape, these are unavoidable when you have this industry in these waters.”

Beardslee is encouraging residents with boats and kayaks to paddle out and “vote with your boat,” in the Our Sound Our Salmon’s flotilla.

The flotilla, he said, is a visual reminder of the harm that can come from net pen fish farms.

“They use our public waters for their benefit and it’s a one-way street. We lose,” Beardslee said. “They pollute our waters every day, they put our native fish at risk every day. I think Puget Sound is more important than that.”

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