Thousands of Atlantic salmon escape fish farm in San Juan Islands

A fish pen containing 305,000 farmed Atlantic salmon collapsed over the weekend in the San Juan Islands, raising fears about the potential that native Pacific salmon will be negatively impacted.

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The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife estimated that between 4,000 and 5,000 fish escaped the damaged pen off Cypress Island when it first became compromised Saturday.

The farm's owner, Cooke Aquaculture Pacific, said the farm then collapsed entirely on Sunday, trapping most of the fish inside.

Both the company and state officials did not expect disease to be transferred to native salmon because the farmed fish are considered healthy. Ron Warren, fish program assistant director for WDFW, said the farmed salmon had not received meal with antibiotics in more than a year.

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"That's a good indicator of a good healthy lot of fish," Warren said.

Warren expects the fish will make their way to fresh water areas, particularly in north Puget Sound, but predicted the biggest native impact on local wild salmon would be new competition for food.

He said there was no evidence that Atlantic salmon have successfully interbred with native wild salmon in Western Washington, but that "we don't like to test that theory.”

State officials encourage recreational anglers to catch the salmon, which are about 8-10 pounds each.

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The state says there is no size or catch limit for Atlantic salmon.

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