The response to Atlantic salmon that escaped from a Puget Sound fish farm ratcheted up a notch on Saturday as three government agencies formed a joint task force.
The Washington state departments of Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife and Ecology created an incident command structure to respond to the escape of Atlantic salmon from net pens off Cypress Island.
Governor Jay Inslee’s office and the state Emergency Management Division are also partners.
“This is an environmental spill, so it’s being treated as such,” Ecology spokeswoman Cori Simmons said.
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The fish, which escaped on or about Aug. 19, continue to disperse through Puget Sound, as evidenced by their capture by fishermen.
The non-native fish pose a risk to native stocks because they compete for food and can transfer diseases. When it’s time to spawn, the Atlantic salmon can go up rivers and streams and compete for spawning grounds.
It isn’t clear if the Atlantic salmon can crossbreed with Chinook salmon, a native and endangered species.
The Incident Command structure will create a unified command of the three agencies. Local tribes and the company responsible for the disaster, Cooke Aquaculture, are also involved.
Gov. Jay Inslee and Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz said that the state will not issue any new leases or permits for marine Atlantic salmon net pens until a full review of the incident has been completed.
The incident command will be located in Anacortes.