Salmon Spill Sends Thousands of Invasive Fish Swimming Up and Down the Pacific Coast

Image: USFWS
Image: USFWS

Last month, a pen in Washington State holding hundreds of thousands of fish broke, sending swarms of silver Atlantic salmon swimming to the south and north. As you’re no doubt aware, Washington State is not on the Atlantic. Now, these invasive fish have been reported as far as 150 miles away in Canada.


The Pacific salmon, which is native to these waters, is a charismatic, symbolic, and potentially vulnerable species of fish. Sure, the Atlantic salmon probably won’t colonize the Pacific Ocean and tributaries, but activists are concerned that the potentially negligent act could have harmful consequences on the livelihood of Pacific salmon populations.

“[The Atlantic salmon] are occupying habitat that’s critical for wild Pacific salmon,” Patrick Myers, Director of Outreach and Development at the Wild Fish Conservancy told Gizmodo. “We are also concerned about the spread of parasites and disease like sea lice.”

The CBC now reports that Fisheries and Oceans Canada has received 40 (unconfirmed) reports of Atlantic salmon in British Columbia waters, further north than the experts had expected the fish to travel. The Lummi Nation, a Native American tribe in Washington State, reports that they’ve caught over 43,500 Atlantic salmon, according to their Facebook page.

Aside from a potential for disease spread, it’s unclear what effect the fish spill might have on the Pacific salmon. “They probably won’t interbreed with Western native salmon,” which are different species, William E. Kelso, Professor of Renewable Natural Resources at Louisiana State University told Gizmodo.

But the Atlantic salmon certainly aren’t the only problem faced by the Pacific salmon, Lisa Seeb, professor at the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington told Gizmodo. The Pacific salmon already face threats of poaching and habitat destruction, and have been the focus of large-scale conservation efforts. “It brings the plight of the Pacific salmon to light and people are concerned about having one more thing that’s a challenge for them.”

There have been accusations of potential negligence lobbied at the company that owned the fishery, Cooke Aquaculture. The company blamed high tides for the fish spill, but the tide tables didn’t seem to be too strange, reports the CBC. The site was meant to receive upgrades, and activists have already had problems with the placement of the Atlantic salmon pens in the Pacific anyway. Myers will be leading a protest in Washington this weekend.


Anyway, some real fishy stuff has been happening in Washington this summer.



Former Gizmodo physics writer and founder of Birdmodo, now a science communicator specializing in quantum computing and birds



Can someone please explain to me what in practical terms is the difference between Atlantic and Pacific salmon and why anyone whose livelihood is not in Marketing should care? Salmon is salmon. It tastes great regardless of origin.