In August, after celebrating a First Salmon ceremony with our Lummi friends, we were touring the Tribal Center with Darryl Hillaire. His phone rang. He answered it and spoke with a grave expression and hushed tone. Cooke Aquaculture’s net-pen salmon farm on nearby Cypress Island had collapsed that morning, releasing hundreds of thousands of non-native Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound. It was a sour and alarming note to end our time with fellow salmon people.
In September, the kids and I made signs and took to the water to protest Cooke’s net-pen facility just off our home island. This net pen, the site of past viral outbreaks and source of chemical and fecal pollution, is outrageously situated adjacent to the Orchard Rocks Marine Conservation Area. The event was planned by Wild Fish Conservancy long before the Cypress Island incident, but the disaster added urgency to what we were doing. More importantly, a wider group of citizens, the media and politicians were paying attention now.
Last Friday, Governor Jay Inslee, signed into law the bill banning non-native net-pen salmon farming in Washington state. Outright victories in the fish conservation world can be few and far between, but after years of trying, this one came together quickly. Huge thanks to Wild Fish Conservancy, State Senator Kevin Ranker (who sponsored the bill), and all the activists, advocates and citizens who protested, called and raised enough of a ruckus to make this happen. It’s a big win for the Salish Sea, wild salmon, and, on a personal level, a great lesson in democracy for Skyla and Weston. We are stoked!
The protest to stop the net-pen salmon farms in Puget Sound was a bit overshadowed here (and in our lives) by the loss of our friend Bruce Hill. But in many ways, the flotilla fit the model of what Bruce always taught: It was part of a well-planned, strategic campaign (led by Wild Fish Conservancy), the kind of campaign that can actually create change. In my mind, it was also an important opportunity for the kids to participate in shaping their own future. We’ve been talking about the net pens and how they impact the Sound, and the night before, we discussed how to articulate what we were feeling in short, strong messaging for our signs. On the day of the protest, everything went perfectly. The weather was warm and calm, many boats–kayaks, SUPs, sailboats, commercial fishing boats, canoes, a boat from the Suquamish Tribe, sport-fishing boats, bow riders–showed up, and Lummi Island Wild’s enormous tender, the Galactic Ice, with our friend Riley Starks at the helm, led a procession around the dirty, putrid-smelling net pens. More importantly, the flotilla was well-attended by media, with crews from the local Island paper on up to NPR and Reuters there to cover the event. Mission accomplished.
And on the way home, with warm evening light silvery on the glassy Sound, the kids and I stopped to enjoy some of what we’re fighting to save–strong, beautiful, wild sea-run cutthroat trout. I think Bruce would approve.
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.
Both kids love their science classes in school, and Skyla often mentions wanting to be a marine biologist when she grows up. So when the field biologists from the Wild Fish Conservancy invited us to participate in some beach-seine sampling, as part of their project to assess juvenile salmon habitat around Puget Sound, we jumped at the opportunity. That’s the crew–James, Frank, Justin and Aaron–showing the kids how it all works on the first set.
These guys were incredibly friendly and patient with the kids, happy to explain each process as they captured individual fish, measured and recorded them without harm, then placed them into another bucket for release once the netting was done. A great lesson in how science works in the field and the importance of consistent methodology.
Once the kids were familiar with how it all worked, the guys put them to work. I don’t know how much actual “help” the kids provided, but it was a fantastic experience for the kids to feel like they were contributing.
The abundance and variety of life captured in the seine impressed the kids, who are used to just observing from above the water while fishing. They caught juvenile chum, coho and pink salmon, cutthroat trout, a starry flounder, several varieties of sculpins, marine worms, shrimp…endless fascination. That’s Skyla, junior marine biologist, observing a coho salmon and cutthroat trout. Huge thanks to everyone at WFC, for making us feel like part of the crew, and for all the important work you’re doing to protect the fish we love.
Yvon said that if something happened to the building while this crew was in it, salmon would be doomed. I couldn’t agree more. For me it was an honor just to sit with these people–my heroes in wild salmon conservation–for an entire day, while plotting how Patagonia Provisions can best contribute to the effort. This is the Patagonia Provisions Wild Salmon Advisory Team.
In many ways it was a historical meeting of the minds; scientists, advocates, fishermen, authors and a commercial fish company (Provisions) working together to ensure a future for wild salmon. I can’t think of another salmon purveyor that’s ever spent this much money and effort to convene a group like this, or one that would act on their recommendations.
Back row: Nick Gayeski (Wild Fish Conservancy), Mark Kurlansky (author of Cod), Matt Stoecker (DamNation, Stoecker Ecological), Dr. Jack Stanford (Flathead Lake Biological Station), Jim Lichatowich (author of Salmon Without Rivers), Keith Carpenter (Lummi Island Wild), Aaron Hill (Watershed Watch), Bruce Hill (Skeena Wild), Lisa Pike-Sheehy (Patagonia).
Front Row: Birgit Cameron (Patagonia Provisions), James Farag (Patagonia Provisions), Jill Dumain (Patagonia), Misty MacDuffee (Rain Coast Conservation), Dr. Carol Ann Woody (Fisheries Research Consulting) , Me (blinded by the California sunshine and star power around me), Kurt Beardslee (Wild Fish Conservancy), Yvon Chouinard (Patagonia).
Heavyweights all. And with this group meeting annually, the future of wild salmon looks better and brighter. I felt lucky to be a part of it, and even luckier to call these people friends.