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Did the Solar Eclipse Cause Farmed Salmon to Stage a Massive Jailbreak?

By Katherine Ripley

On Aug. 19, around 4 p.m., 5,000 salmon escaped from Cooke Aquaculture, an aquaculture farm in the Puget Sound in Washington. There have been some anecdotal accounts of animals behaving strangely in response to the solar eclipse that happened on Aug. 21. Could this salmon jailbreak have been the animals' reaction to the impending celestial event?

Not likely.

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Farmed Atlantic salmon inside pens at Sir Edmund fish farm. Sea Shepard

Thousands of Farmed Atlantic Salmon Escape Into Pacific Ocean

Thousands of Atlantic salmon escaped from a damaged net pen at a Cooke Aquaculture fish farm off Cypress Island in Washington's Puget Sound on Saturday, sparking fears from some that the farm-raised fish could threaten wild Pacific salmon.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) said that 305,000 salmon were in the net pen at the time, but the company estimates that 4,000-5,000 fish escaped.

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Hard Evidence Shows Farmed Salmon Is Destroying Wild Salmon

Dr. Alexandra Morton

Consumers have been led to believe that when they buy farmed salmon, they are helping protect wild salmon and the whales and bears that feed on them, but nothing could be further from the truth.

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23 California Salmon Species Likely to Go Extinct Within 100 Years

California's plethora of salmon and trout species are dwindling at a rapid rate. A new study found that of the 31 genetically distinct kinds of salmon and trout on the West Coast, 23 will likely go extinct within a hundred years.

The study is a follow up to a 2008 report that drew the same conclusions, however, the outlook wasn't as grim almost 10 years ago. The old assessment gave a time period of 50 years for five of the species, the new one says now 14 species are likely to be lost within that timeframe.

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Alaska's Bristol Bay Watershed. Ben Knight

Trump's EPA Just Revived Controversial Pebble Mine

By Taryn Kiekow Heimer

If the Trump administration's strategy is to put a foreign mining company first—and America's greatest wild salmon fishery dead last—then sadly it's succeeding.

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Farmed Salmon Industry Causing Global Sea Lice Crisis

A tiny bug is behind a major problem in the global farmed salmon industry.

The sea louse, or salmon louse, is eating into farmed Atlantic salmon supplies in Scotland, Norway, Iceland and Canada, driving salmon prices higher and creating a "chemical arms race in the seas," the Guardian reports.

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Nation's First Lawsuit Filed Against EPA's Scott Pruitt

By Brett VandenHeuvel

Thursday, Columbia Riverkeeper filed the nation's first lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's administrator Scott Pruitt, Columbia Riverkeeper et al. v. Pruitt.

Pruitt has deep ties to the fossil fuel industry. As Attorney General of Oklahoma, he repeatedly sued the EPA to weaken environmental protections. It seems appropriate, then, that the first lawsuit against Pruitt could compel him to addresses the real impacts of climate change today. That's why we are in court, asking a federal judge to compel Pruitt to protect salmon from hot water—before it's too late.

Salmon need water cooler than 68°F for long-term survival, but the Columbia and Snake Rivers routinely exceed 70°F in the summer. And the water temperature continues to rise as our climate heats up. Low snow pack and record heat are becoming the new normal. For the Pacific Northwest, salmon are the canary in the climate change coal mine.

The summer of 2015 was a heart-breaking reminder of this long-recognized problem. That summer, I watched thousands of sockeye salmon swimming around in circles, scarred with lesions, waiting to die because they could not continue upstream to cold-water streams to spawn. Roughly 250,000 adult sockeye perished in the lower Columbia and Snake Rivers. Pollution—here, heat pollution—turned back almost entire run of Snake River sockeye salmon.

Climate change is not a future threat or something happening far away. It is impacting our quality of life, economy and local environment right now. The Columbia is just one example, but an important one.

Fortunately, there are things we can do right now to lower the water temperature in the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers create large, stagnant pools that warm up the water, but changing the operation of those dams to simulate more natural flows could reduce river temperature. And removing the four lower Snake River dams—which biologists have been recommending since the Clinton administration—could dramatically decrease the temperature of the lower Snake.

This lawsuit, if won, would require Pruitt to make a plan to protect salmon from the twin causes of hot water in the Columbia and Snake Rivers: climate change and dams. Under the Clean Water Act, the EPA must protect salmon from pollution, including heat pollution. We're asking a judge to order Pruitt to do his job: Acknowledge the immediate threat of climate change and make a plan to protect salmon.

The plaintiffs are Columbia Riverkeeper, Snake River Waterkeeper, Idaho Rivers United, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations and the Institute for Fisheries Resources. Plaintiffs are represented by: Bryan Hurlbutt, an attorney at Advocates for the West, a public interest nonprofit environmental law firm based in Boise, Idaho; Richard Smith, an attorney at Smith and Lowney PLLC in Seattle; and Miles Johnson, an attorney at Columbia Riverkeeper in Hood River, Oregon.

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Judge to FDA: Agency Must Pull Aside Curtain on GE Salmon

By Jessica A. Knoblauch

A U.S. District Court judge took the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to task on Jan. 10 for withholding government documents related to the agency's approval of genetically engineered (GE) salmon. The judge's decision is a big win for public transparency, but it's also a small step toward finally doing a proper evaluation of the risks posed by GE animals—which could one day end up on our dinner plates.

In 2015, the FDA approved GE salmon made from the DNA of three different animals: Atlantic salmon, deep water ocean eelpout, and Pacific Chinook salmon. The GE version is intended to grow faster than conventional farmed salmon, reportedly getting to commercial size in half the time.

Even though this is the first time any government in the world has approved a GE animal for commercial sale and consumption, so far the FDA has taken a lackadaisical approach to evaluating the salmon's potential for harm to wild salmon and the environment. If the GE salmon were to escape, it could threaten wild salmon populations by outcompeting them for scarce resources and habitat, by mating with endangered salmon species, and by introducing new diseases.

The world's preeminent experts on GE fish and risk assessment, as well as biologists at U.S. wildlife agencies charged with protecting fish and wildlife, heavily criticized the FDA for failing to evaluate these impacts. But the FDA ignored their concerns, so in March 2016, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit against the agency.

As part of the lawsuit, the FDA is required to compile a record of documents that illuminate the path the agency followed to reach its decision to approve the GE salmon—much like a student is required to show their work for a math problem in middle school. A complete record is essential in all cases. But it is especially important here because the FDA has so far refused to release most of the documents related to its decision, despite repeated requests for that information from Earthjustice's diverse set of clients under the Freedom of Information Act.

The public has a right to know how the agency came to this seemingly ill-informed decision, especially because the FDA's approach will likely serve as a precedent for the assessment of future GE food animals. Withholding that information is illegal because government agencies like the FDA are funded by taxpayer dollars, which means that any records they create, with only limited exceptions, can and should be available to the public and to citizens seeking to hold the government accountable in court.

Last month, a U.S. District Court judge agreed, concluding that: "the government is wrong to assert that these types of materials … should be excluded" from the record. The FDA is now required to fully complete the record with all relevant documents no later than July 2017. In addition to working to ensure the timely completion of that process, we will thoroughly review the full basis for the agency's decisions.

"There's no way to know what exactly is in these documents until we see them," says Earthjustice attorney Brettny Hardy. "But they will undoubtedly provide a far more complete picture of how we got here, including information that raises legitimate questions about the agency's decision."

Jessica Knoblauch is a former award-winning journalist who now serves at the helm of Earthjustice's editorial team, which tells stories through the organization's blog, quarterly magazine and website.

Climate

20 Most Read Posts of the Year

From Noam Chomsky's epic post on his fears of the coming Trump Administration to Michael Moore's damnation of the Flint water crisis to Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.'s first-hand account of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, 2016 was jam-packed with news once again showing our continued disregard for the health of people and the planet.

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