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Cooke Aquaculture under fire after thousands of fish escape

The PSP Investments portfolio company is facing criticism from environmental groups after an equipment failure at a Washington State facility containing 305,000 Atlantic salmon, resulted in many of the fish escaping into Pacific waters.

Aquakultur-Vestmanna

The PSP Investments portfolio company is facing criticism from environmental groups after an equipment failure at a Washington State facility containing 305,000 Atlantic salmon, resulted in many of the fish escaping into Pacific waters.

Thousands of Atlantic salmon escaped an offshore fish farm as the result of damage sustained from high tides and currents coinciding with this week’s solar eclipse, according to Cooke Aquaculture Pacific, a company backed by Canada’s PSP Investments.

Cooke reported the failure of a net pen containing 305,000 Atlantic salmon at a facility near Cypress Island, Washington to the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife on 19 August.

In a statement, Cooke estimated that “several thousand” Atlantic salmon had escaped but noted that many still appeared to be in their nets and it would be impossible to confirm the exact number of fish lost until harvesting and an inventory had been conducted.

Hallvard Muri, chief executive of aquaculture technology and service provider AKVA, told Agri Investor that the while incident was “very unfortunate”, it would likely not impact growing investor interest for exposure to aquaculture and seafood investments. Muri did say, however, that the salmon escape would damage the perception of aquaculture in the Pacific Northwest, a region where he noted the industry already faces stiff opposition from environmental groups.

In response to the escape, the WDFW encouraged local fisherman to catch as many of the fish as possible, providing an identification guide and confirming that they are safe to eat. Ron Warren, the head of WDFW’s fish program, said in a statement that there is no evidence of a threat through either disease or crossbreeding with native Pacific salmon in the region.

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

In its statement, Cooke seemed to suggest that it had been prevented from making desired improvements to the damaged facility, pledging coordination with local authorities as it rebuilds the farm and highlighting its “solid track record” of strengthening operations following acquisitions in Maine, Scotland, Spain and Chile.

“In our first year as owners of the Washington salmon farming operations, Cooke Aquaculture Pacific identified areas for investments to bring the facilities up to Cooke’s global standard. As part of that process, we applied for permits to allow us to strengthen and update the Cypress site even before the existing fish were harvested out,” the company said.

While attention has focused on Cooke’s use of steel as opposed to plastic rings for the affected offshore pens near Cypress Island in the aftermath of the escape, Muri stressed that steel rings had been used in the Pacific Northwest and other regions for decades.

“What I understand the problem as being here is that they had problems with the moorings,” he said, adding that there had been emergency work on the moorings at the Cypress Island facility about a month ago. “When you put in a farm like this, there’s a lot of calculations behind how this anchoring systems and mooring systems are supposed to be designed. It’s not just dropping a pen in the water.”

PSP representatives referred inquiries seeking further detail to Cooke representatives, who did not return messages by the time of publication.