Why the Washington State fish farm collapse is an “unlikely event” in B.C.

Industry veterans say that the salmon farming industry practice of adopting state-of-the art technology to clean pen nets in B.C. is among the world’s best

By SeaWestNews

Two of Canada’s leading experts on aquaculture engineering say it’s highly unlikely that the net collapse of a salmon farm in Washington State, can happen in British Columbia.

The industry veterans said that regular net cleaning measures, solid engineering with huge margins for impacts by tidal variance and the salmon farming’s industry practice of adopting state-of-the art technology to clean nets, makes what happened in Washington state an “unlikely event” in BC.

Washington state officials this week cancelled a lease with Cooke Aquaculture Pacific at the site where net pens holding farmed Atlantic salmon collapsed last summer, releasing tens of thousands non-native fish into Puget Sound, local media reported.

The Canada-based company was found negligent for failing to adequately clean its nets, and investigators said that directly contributed to the net-pen failure in August at the facility. They found that the nets failed because they were excessively laden with mussels and other marine organisms. That increased the drag on the nets from tidal currents and overwhelmed the mooring system.

Cooke has criticized the state’s investigation as incomplete and inaccurate. The company disputed the report’s findings, including its accounting of fish, according to CBC.

The incident is being used by the anti- fish farming lobby to push for a ban on ocean pens in the Pacific Northwest, including in BC.

“I can’t comment on what went on down there but I can tell you that the systems in place here and measures taken at BC fish farms almost negate the chances of a net collapse in BC waters,” said Kevin Onclin, who operates Badinotti Net Services on Vancouver Island.

Onclin said the robust engineering standards for the ocean pens used here are among the most stringent in the world and the cleaning standards mirror that of the practice in Norway and Scotland.

“Nets here are cleaned as often as once every two weeks or three times a month depending on the season,” said Onclin, whose specialized business of cleaning fish farm nets has been in operation for the last 30 years.

“I work with virtually all the fish farms and I can tell you that they all know clean nets equals healthy fish,” said Onclin, whose team uses remote-controlled underwater pressure washers or “net-cleaning robots” to strip nets of fouling material like algae and barnacles.

“The fish farm industry here in BC sets very high standards for itself, even more than what regulation requires,” said Onclin.

Marine engineer Matt Clarke of Poseidon Ocean Systems in Campbell River said it’s not in any farmer’s interest to have heavily fouled nets because it blocks good water flow which salmon need to thrive.

He said the engineering systems used on BC fish farms are robust enough to withstand collapse even if the nets are heavily fouled.

“The farms here have employed an anti-fouling regiment that is world class…given all things being equal, what happened in Washington, is an unlikely event here,” he said.

“We work with all of the major operations here and I’ve never seen a farm break up like it did down in Washington.”

Jeremy Dunn, the Executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) said: “Our members have made significant investments in their operations over the past few years to ensure containment of fish, structural integrity of farm systems, and precisely engineered mooring.”

“Their record on minimizing fish escapes shows that these investments are paying off,” Dunn said.