New fish farm pitched off Clallam County waters

By:  By Rob Ollikainen
Source: Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — An Oregon seafood company has floated the idea of a new fish farm in the waters off Clallam County.

Pacific Aquaculture, a division of Pacific Seafoods, wants to lease 180 acres in the Strait of Juan de Fuca between the Lyre and Twin rivers to raise steelhead and Atlantic salmon.

"It's an ideal location," said John Bielka, Pacific Aquaculture general manager, in a Friday interview with the Peninsula Daily News.

Bielka said the constant flushing action of the Strait would allow the waste to be "quickly swept away and assimilated by the marine food web."

Not formally proposed

The idea has not been formally proposed.

Pacific Aquaculture will meet with regulatory agencies in Clallam County early next month before submitting an application.

"We'll see if it's economically feasible to develop the project further," Bielka said.

Bielka said the fish farm would be 1½ to 2 miles offshore. It would have two rows of large circular net pens, 24 altogether.

Steelhead, salmon

One row would grow steelhead, and the other would grow Atlantic salmon.

American Gold Seafoods now operates two hatcheries near Rochester in Thurston County and has 120 pens off Port Angeles, Bainbridge Island, Cypress Island and Hope Island.

Bielka said most Atlantic salmon are farmed off British Columbia, Norway and Chile.

The Seattle Times reported Thursday that 85 percent of fish and shellfish consumed in the U.S. is imported.

"We, as an American company, would like to see some of that produced locally to keep the jobs in the state," Bielka said.

"This operation has the potential to produce 20 jobs at the farm and up to 60 people for the processing facility."

Local plant possible

Bielka said it is a "real possibility" that the processing plant would be in Clallam County.

Pacific Seafood farms steelhead in the Columbia River in Eastern Washington, working closely with the Colville tribe.

Bielka said the company has strong ties with the tribes of the North Olympic Peninsula. It buys the majority of the fish caught in Neah Bay, he said.

"We have strong ties with tribal entities as a company," Bielka said.

He said the sediment released from the Elwha River dams would not affect the fish farm if it is approved and built.

The news comes after the announcement last week by researchers with Simon Fraser University in British Columbia of the discovery of an influenza-like virus in two juvenile sockeye salmon collected from British Columbia's central coast.

Virus find is a first

It was the first time the deadly, contagious marine virus was detected in wild salmon on the West Coast.

The virus was found in two of 48 juvenile sockeye salmon collected as part of a long-term study of sockeye salmon led by Simon Fraser University Professor Rick Routledge.

Researchers said Fred Kibenge of the Atlantic Veterinary College at the University of Prince Edward Island confirmed the presence of the virus in two fish and noted it was a European strain of the virus.

Routledge and biologist and wild-salmon activist Alexandra Morton suggested Monday that the source of the virus is Atlantic salmon farms in British Columbia, which has imported millions of salmon eggs since 1986.

The virus, which doesn't affect humans, has caused losses at fish farms in Chile and other areas and could have devastating impacts on wild salmon in the region and other species that depend on them, researchers said.

"The state tested about 56,000 hatchery and wild fish last year and hasn't found signs of the virus, infectious salmon anemia, said John Kerwin, who supervises the fish health unit at the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Not detected locally

Kerwin said American Gold Seafoods, the only company now raising Atlantic salmon in Western Washington, has not detected the virus.

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell is calling on government scientists to develop a response to the virus.

Cantwell, D-Mountlake Terrace, introduced the bill last week with Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, and Mark Begich, a Democrat.

Report to Congress

This measure calls on an interagency group of scientists to provide Congress a report in six months that details surveillance, susceptibility of species and populations, potential vectors, gaps in knowledge and recommendations for management.

Cantwell said the government needs a coordinated game plan "to protect the Pacific Northwest's coastal economy and jobs."