Tribes worry about environmental toll from salmon spill

Tribes are growing increasingly worried about the toll that the Atlantic salmon escape from a fish farm near Cypress Island in the Washington San Juans is taking on the environment.  Members of the Samish Indian Nation have spent years trying to restore natural habitat in the area.

Cypress Island is part of the tribe’s usual and accustomed area, and members have a special connection to the land.

“This is part of home, not just for me, but for my nation, as well,” Chairman Tom Wooten said.

The tribe has made a substantial investment of time, resources, and money in restoring and preserving the habitat. “We’re the stewards of this. We’ve been keeping it for everybody to use,” Wooten said.

File image of Atlantic Salmon (Credit: Peter Whyte, CSIRO)

It hasn’t been pleasant to have the salmon farming operation in the waters nearby, but with the collapse of the pen and the release of thousands of non-native fish, the tribe is worried about the ecosystem.

Recently, the tribe spent several years doing restoration work near Secret Harbor reconnecting a wetland complex and a salt marsh.

“This particular place is heavily used by numerous species as a nursery area so certainly one of our concerns, with the escapement, is the large fish coming in here and preying on native young species,” Natural Resources Director Todd Woodard said.

They’re frustrated by the response time of both the company and the state, but they’re trying to be hopeful. They’ve been pushing back against the expansion of these operations, and the governor has put a hold on new permits, while the state investigates what happened at Cypress Island.

Tribal elders say they try to encourage a philosophy that thinks seven generations ahead.

“If we want seven generations from now to be able to experience traditional salmon to do the things their grandparents have done, we have to care for it now and lay the groundwork to care for it in the future,” Woodard said.

Click here for more information about the Samish Nation.

© 2017 KING-TV

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