Study finds Atlantic salmon that escaped from Cypress Island pen were diseased

A disturbing new report discovered salmon that escaped into the Puget Sound during August's net pen failure are infected with a highly contagious and harmful virus.

For 15 years, Kurt Beardslee and his team with the Wild Fish Conservancy Northwest have been tracking the Atlantic salmon industry in the Pacific Northwest, three of those years spent along Vancouver Island.

"What we saw there concerned us greatly,” Beardslee told us from inside his non-profit’s research office in Duvall.

Native salmon numbers there have dropped dramatically and Beardslee blames, in part, Atlantic Salmon, which were contained.

So when one of Cooke Aquaculture's three salmon pens off Cypress Island collapsed in August and more than 260,000 of what are considered an invasive species ended up in the Puget Sound, Beardslee said it put salmon in grave danger.

"We are very serious about saving our salmon, and by ‘we’ I mean the people of the northwest are very serious," he said.

The situation became more serious this week when results from a Wild Fish Conservancy Northwest study came back from the lab. 
Beardslee said they tested organs in 19 Atlantic salmon recovered from the pen collapse.

"Since we sampled three organs in each fish we had 57 samples, 56 of the organs actually had the virus,” Beardslee said of his findings.

He’s talking about Piscine Orthoreovirus, a disease that weakens the fish and a strain that originated in Norway.

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Earlier this month, the state DNR revoked Cooke Aquaculture's lease on the farm that collapsed.

"The is about making sure that I do my due responsibility to the public and the waters of Washington State.," Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz told us about that decision—and that was before Beardslee’s lab results.

"I was pretty outraged, I have to say.

I still am,” Beardslee concluded.

Washington is the only state along the west coast that allows Atlantic Salmon pens in public waters.

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