Bittersweet Elwha Visit

Several times a year, the kids and I like to visit the Elwha to watch nature’s progress as the river recovers from being dammed for more than 100 years. To me, it’s one of the most uplifting places on earth and a shining example of humans making up for past mistakes. The kids, I think, grasp this on some level, but also look forward to our time out there simply to be outside in a beautiful place.

This visit, though, wasn’t without some sad news. Despite mountains of published, peer-reviewed science demonstrating the negative impacts hatchery fish have on wild fish recovery (because of bad genetics, competition and attraction of unnaturally high levels of predators), earlier this month, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a previous decision that put severe limits on hatchery fish releases in the Elwha. The Elwha hatchery was ready to go, and the day after the court decision, they started releasing vast numbers of juvenile salmon and steelhead into the newly free watershed. Because of the known science–and the stated purpose of dam removal in the first place, which was to recover wild salmon–this is akin to shooting one’s self in the foot.

There’s a new threat to the Ewha as well, in the form of a proposed expansion of Puget Sound open-water salmon farms by Cooke Aquaculture. Specifically, a large net-pen facility that’s under consideration for placement in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, just off the mouth of the Elwha. Like the hatchery issue, there is overwhelming science showing the damaging effects salmon farms have on wild fish populations, and yet, our state seems intent on green-lighting more fish farms for our waters. To put one off the mouth of the Elwha is, yet again, shooting one’s self in the foot. (For more information and to sign a petition to stop the fish-farm expansion, click HERE.)

But Skyla, Weston, Halo and I weren’t about to let the news get in the way of a good time or good feelings. We walked into the lower dam site and marveled at the power of the free-flowing river coursing through the very place that once blocked the current–and salmon–from passing through.

We spent the afternoon playing on the newly formed (and still growing) Elwha delta complex, with all it’s perfect juvenile salmon rearing habitat. (The beach here also happens to be ideal rearing habitat for juvenile humans.) Here, the baby salmon feed and acclimate to saltwater, and it’s always a thrill to watch the small, silver fish rising to insects on the surface of the tide pools, sloughs and channels of the new delta. As the tide pushed in, it flooded the habitat, freeing the fish to continue their migration out to sea. Some tough news for the Elwha, and yet, the simple fact of a free-flowing river is still an uplifting experience and reason to celebrate. But it’s also reason to activate, get involved, and continue the fight for the Elwha’s recovery.

Stop Puget Sound Salmon Farms

Cooke Industries, which now owns the existing Puget Sound open-water salmon farms, bought them intending a massive expansion. The State of Washington is doing everything they can to clear the way for this expansion. The pens pictured above are anchored just off Bainbridge Island on–yes, it’s true–the Orchard Rocks Marine Conservation Area, a “Marine Protected Area” deemed so rich in sea life that it’s off limits to all fishing and harvest. The state, apparently, doesn’t see the irony in allowing a salmon feedlot, with all the known chemical and fecal pollution, parasite infestation, and viral outbreaks, to operate here.

Everywhere open-water salmon farms have been allowed to operate, wild salmon and the animals (including humans) that depend on them have suffered. In fact, California, Oregon and Alaska have all looked at the negative impacts and refused to allow open-water salmon farms in their waters. Why Washington allows them, and even worse, seems intent on an expansion, is beyond comprehension.

Thankfully, our friends at the Wild Fish Conservancy launched a campaign today to stop the expansion of open-water fish farms from destroying what we love about Puget Sound. For more information and to sign the petition asking Governor Inslee to ban the expansion of open-water salmon farms in Puget Sound, click HERE. It only takes a minute. Don’t let corporate greed, profits for few, and state malfeasance continue at the expense of our public resources. Thank you.

Local Irony


I believe that most of us in the community where we live are aware of the well-documented harm open-water salmon farms cause. We know salmon farms are the source of vast quantities of waste pollution, disease outbreaks, and parasites that all impact the marine environment and sea life passing by the net pens. We know large amounts of chemicals and antibiotics are required to keep the fish alive in such close quarters.

We know the flesh of farmed salmon would be gray if not for coloring added to their food, and disdain the bland taste and soft texture, not to mention the potential exposure to antibiotics and chemicals the fish are treated with. So it’s easy to boycott farmed salmon, and many of us do.

But what many of us don’t know is that there’s a large salmon farming facility right here in our own backyard. More specifically–and ironically–the American Gold Seafoods net pens are anchored directly within the Orchard Rocks Conservation Area. This is a place set aside by the state and made off limits to fishing and other harvest for the sole purpose of conserving a special habitat and the sea life that inhabits it.

It’s tough to understand how it’s even possible to combine a “Conservation” Area with an open-water salmon farm. The two are 180-degrees apart in purpose and execution. Instead of conserving anything, we have a commercial, for-profit salmon feedlot, and all its associated environmental problems, right in the middle of what should be considered a shared, public treasure. Sad.

In 2012, this fish farm was the site of the first recorded outbreak of IHN, an infectious, deadly (to fish) disease, in Washington waters. The result was that American Gold had to euthanize and remove their entire stock of salmon. According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the appearance of the disease was “a big concern for us,” because “you don’t fully understand the impact to wild fish.” And yet, the net pens are still there, packed full of yet another batch of non-native Atlantic salmon.

The feedlot concept doesn’t work for salmon, not when public resources like wild fish and clean water are endangered for the profit of a few. On a larger scale, the disease outbreak, the low quality of the fish produced, the enormous amounts of chemicals, antibiotics and fecal waste released into our shared waters, are all just further proof: When humans try to do something better than Mother Nature, they are destined to failure.

How do you feel about a company polluting our waters, risking our wild fish, and fouling our conservation area, for their own profit?