Fishers reported thousands of the non-native fish jumping in the water or washing ashore.
They requested an immediate moratorium on all open net-pen fish farm applications on the west coast, and suggested officials begin steps to move farmed fish to facilities on land. Onlookers said it looked like hurricane debris. In Washington, the industry produces about 7,700 tonnes of Atlantic salmon each year, according to the state.
Canada-based Cooke, which operates five salmon farms in Washington that it acquired previous year, would build 14 floating circular net pens about 1 ½ miles (1.61 kilometers) offshore.
Jill Rolland, who directs the U.S. Geological Survey's Western Fisheries Research Center in Seattle, said she's not concerned that the escaped fish have any pathogens that will spread to wild fish. The company blamed the failure on especially high tides coinciding with Monday's solar eclipse.
The farm's owner, Cooke Aquaculture, has blamed the solar eclipse on August 21 for the incident, saying it led to high tides and strong currents that damaged the pen. The pen "imploded" around 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, August 19, possibly due to extra-high tides from the solar eclipse.
The Seattle Times reports many fishermen and environmental groups don't believe the eclipse was a factor, though. But now a spokesperson for the company says they don't know the full number and that there are "Very, very much more", saying the farm "totally collapsed".
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimated tides reached a maximum height of 7.46 feet (2.27 metres) on August 18, shortly after midnight, and similar heights that afternoon, early Saturday morning and afternoon, and early Sunday morning.
Halse said Cooke had applied for permits to upgrade the net pens at the Cypress Island to its level of standards.
Every month of 2017 had brought stronger currents to Cypress Island, according to DeepZoom.
These salmon typically thrive in the Atlantic Ocean, and they've just been released into the Pacific. They worry about water pollution from fish feed and the potential for farmed fish to spread of diseases and parasites to wild fish. "You start having a viral or parasitic outbreak there, when our juvenile fish are moving through - it could be a disaster", Beardslee said.
A male Atlantic salmon.
"Can you put those in there?"
Before this week, the department hadn't received any reports of Atlantic salmon since 2014, when one case was reported.
The escape of thousands of farmed salmon have prompted a state of emergency for a nearby First Nation, and environmentalists are skeptical that the eclipse is to blame for the broken nets.
"WDFW has encouraged recreational harvesters to catch as many as they can, but what does that mean to the other species?"
Several days later, the nation is still encouraging members to actively fish the waters through the weekend in attempt to bring in as many Atlantic salmon as possible, particularly in the areas around Bellingham Bay and the mouth of the Nooksack River.
In Canadian waters, there has been one unconfirmed report of possible Atlantic salmon, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans said. The association said an annual average of fewer than 50 fish have escaped from B.C. farms over the last five years.