Atlantic salmon catches hint at widening circle of escaped fish
Surrey sport angler Adam de Bosch Kemper’s catch of Atlantic salmon in a smelt fishing net Saturday night off White Rock offers further evidence of how far thousands of escaped salmon from a Washington State fish farm have spread in Canadian waters.
De Bosch Kemper had just set his net and was waiting to see if it would fill with the small, sardine-like fish when he noticed two bigger fish thrashing in the net. At first, he mistook them for spring salmon.
However, when a third, bigger fish became entangled, de Bosch Kemper had more time to notice the distinctive spotted markings of an Atlantic salmon before the fish shook itself free.
The spot he encountered the fish is about 50 kilometres north of the Cooke Aquaculture farm in the San Juan Islands that suffered damage in strong currents starting Aug. 12. It spilled up to 180,000 adult Atlantic salmon, which have since been tracked as far as 125 kilometres away.
Cooke has recovered and accounted for about 120,000 of the 300,000 fish that were at the fish farm.
“It’s distressing, as I put a lot of value in our native fish,” said de Bosch Kemper, particularly since salmon returns to B.C. rivers this year are extremely low.
Atlantic salmon have shown up as far north as Sechelt and as far west as Port Renfrew on the west coast of Vancouver Island, said Andrew Thomson, regional director for fisheries management at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Thompson said the department will continue to track catches reported to its Atlantic Salmon Watch program and encourages anyone who does encounter the non-native fish to call in to its reporting line.
Thomson said his staff will pick rivers to monitor where the escaped fish are likely to try to spawn and will selectively remove the fish if they are found in significant numbers.
“We’re informed by what’s occurred in the past,” Thomson said, referring to previous large escapes in the 1990s. Washington State farms suffered a handful of escapes of between 100,000 and 360,000 farmed salmon during that period, Thomson said. B.C.’s biggest was about 88,000.
In Washington Saturday, Gov. Jay Inslee ordered a hold on any new permits for ocean net pens pending a thorough investigation of the Cooke Aquaculture incident.
In B.C., a First Nations group is past the sixth day of its peaceful occupation of a Marine Harvest salmon farm off the north coast of Vancouver Island to pressure for its removal from a spot where they contend the company does not have First Nations approval.
Ernest Alfred, a traditional leader from the ’Namgis, Tlowitsis and Mamalilikulla First Nations, said the farm is threatening their traditional way of life by impacting wild salmon and herring stocks, and he is also demanding an end to open-net fish farming in the sensitive Broughton Archipelago area.
B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said she plans to raise the issue with First Nations leaders at a gathering in Vancouver next week.
A committee is examining wild salmon and the aquaculture industry, and a report is expected at the end of November, Popham said.