Everyone’s Mad About Fugitive Salmon in the Pacific Northwest
In a giant refrigerated warehouse 90 miles north of Seattle, 43,500 Atlantic salmon were stacked in plastic crates, frozen pariahs in a kingdom where Pacific salmon rule.
For weeks, locals used nets to chase down the intruders, not to eat them or sell them, but to get them out of the water. Native fishermen who’ve worked Puget Sound for decades mocked them for looking different. Chefs and foodies refused to so much as lay a boning knife on them. Scientists, for their part, say they’re perfectly edible — a good source of protein in a world where increasing numbers of people could use some. But nobody is listening.
The Atlantic salmon are fugitives, escapees from a fish farm. In mid-August, they began to bust out of net pens off the coast of Cypress Island, north of Seattle. To many in the Pacific Northwest, they’re ugly, diseased aliens with bad genes and a taste that’s not quite right.
For Cooke Aquaculture, owners of the net pens, the breakaway salmon have been a nightmare. The closely held company drew public outcry by initially blaming the solar eclipse for strong tides and currents that wrecked its facility. Data showed otherwise, and the company backtracked. The exact cause is under investigation.
Soon after the escape, Washington state regulators issued an unusual call for help by declaring open season on the fish. Commercial and amateur anglers hit the water, hauling in as many as possible before the fish could affect the hometown Pacific species, such as coho, chum and king.