A state-ordered inspection has found "severe corrosion" at another Atlantic salmon farm in Puget Sound, this one along the ferry route between Bremerton and Seattle.
But engineers and divers inspecting the floating steel pens in Rich Passage, off the southern end of Bainbridge Island, said the facility was overall in "fair" condition, with no signs of its structural integrity being compromised.
A corroded salmon farm owned by the same company, Cooke Aquaculture, collapsed in August off Cypress Island near Anacortes, letting more than half of its 305,000 fish from another ocean escape into Puget Sound. That disaster, with jailbreak Atlantic salmon swimming up to 250 miles toward the far end of Vancouver Island, set off alarm bells for fans of wild, Pacific salmon, including tribes in Washington and British Columbia.
About 100,000 of the escaped salmon remain unaccounted for. So far, the Atlantic invaders seem not to be going after wild salmon or their prey: cutting the caught Atlantics open has revealed them to have empty stomachs.
On Monday, the Washington Department of Natural Resources gave Cooke 60 days to fix the badly corroded rails and support structures of its farm on Clam Bay in Rich Passage or risk losing its permit to use state waters for fish farming there.
DNR also reported finding a 12 inch by 12 inch hole in the the farm's outer net, which aims to keep predators from attacking the salmon through its inner net.
“Given the failure of the Cypress Island facility, we have to be extra vigilant in making sure Cooke’s other existing aquaculture facilities are structurally sound,” Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz said in a press release. “We cannot tolerate any risk that more Atlantic salmon will be released in Washington’s waters.”
The inspection report commissioned by DNR found most of the corrosion at or above the water line, with underwater portions of the farm in good to satisfactory condition.
Officials with New Brunswick, Canada-based Cooke Aquaculture said the company had already begun fixing the problems at its Rich Passage site by the time structural engineers hired by DNR visited the site Sept. 28.
The engineers said that, since Cooke purchased its eight Washington salmon farms from Icicle Seafoods a year ago, it has inspected them thoroughly enough to satisfy DNR's requirements. But those inspections were not up to industry standards of thoroughness, according to the report by multinational consulting firm Mott MacDonald.
Previous inspections done for the farm's owners used ultrasound to gauge the thickness and unseen corrosion of the steel in the farm's pontoons and structures. The Mott MacDonald report said those inspections appeared to be piecemeal.
"It appears parts of the pontoons and structure were not gauged," the engineers with Mott McDonald wrote. "It is possible weak areas with corrosion exist."
Mott MacDonald cautioned that its own inspection was limited in scope, conducted mostly by looking and touching, without sampling materials or conducting a structural analysis.
1 million fish on their way
Last week, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife gave Cooke a permit to restock its Rich Passage net pens with a new crop of about 1 million young Atlantic salmon, now being raised in a hatchery outside Olympia.
After that decision, Suquamish tribal chair Leonard Forsman called Atlantic salmon farming off Bainbridge Island "an improper use of our ancestral waters."
"Now is the time for Washington to get out of the Atlantic salmon aquaculture business and focus on restoring our native fish populations," Forsman said in an emailed statement.
"Cooke Aquaculture is committed to working with the state of Washington and Native American tribes to demonstrate that our facilities are operated at the highest standards of safety and structural integrity," Cooke spokesperson Nell Halse said in an email Monday. "In this case, the Department of Natural Resources’ own engineer has inspected the Clam Bay facility and concluded that it is safe and suitable for restocking."
She could not be reached for follow-up questions on Monday, which was Canada's Thanksgiving Day.
The DNR has solicited bids from engineering firms to inspect the rest of Cooke's salmon farms in the state by the end of the year, according to DNR spokesperson Joe Smillie.
After the Cypress Island collapse, Franz and Gov. Jay Inslee and both issued temporary prohibitions on any new salmon farms. Inslee said his office had asked Cooke not to restock the farm, but current laws and regulations did not allow the state to prevent Cooke from re-stocking an existing farm with healthy fishes.
Cooke is the world's fifth-largest producer of farmed salmon, with farms in Canada, Chile and Scotland, as well as Maine and Washington state.
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