In what one conservationist is calling an "environmental nightmare," an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 Atlantic salmon busted out of their holding pen over the weekend after a net broke, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is now pleading with locals to help catch as many as they can.
Cooke Aquaculture's net pen was holding around 305,000 farmed salmon when anchor lines to the pen gave way and service walkways tipped on Saturday, reports the Seattle Times.
The WDFW is now asking for the public's help in scooping the escaped fish out of the waters near Cypress Island (or wherever they may turn up), with no size or quantity restrictions.
The mass exodus has environmentalists concerned, as they're afraid the farmed escapees could take over the feeding and spawning grounds of native chinook and steelhead salmon and pass on disease, KUOW notes.
Cooke says in a statement that "exceptionally high tides and currents coinciding with this week's solar eclipse" contributed to the "structural failure" that led to the salmon's breakout.
But environmentalists are pushing back on that, KING 5 notes, with one organization claiming Cooke had the same net issue earlier this summer. KUOW also reports that tide tables and current and wind speed numbers weren't unusually high on Saturday.
A Cooke spokeswoman doubled down on the eclipse explainer late Tuesday, and she also added that the escaped salmon weren't a threat to native fish because they wouldn't survive.
"It's primarily a business loss," she tells the Times. The salmon, which weigh about 10 pounds each, "will be food for the seals and the fishermen can enjoy them." (Is California's salmon population in big trouble?)
This article originally appeared on Newser: Solar Eclipse May Have Helped 5K Salmon Escape