Es­caped fish reach Tofino, Camp­bell River

Bi­ol­o­gist: 200,000 At­lantic sal­mon caught since net-pen breach

Times Colonist - - Vancouver Island - RICHARD WATTS rwatts@times­colonist.com

At­lantic sal­mon, be­lieved es­caped in the col­lapse of net pens in Wash­ing­ton state last month, have been re­ported as far away as Tofino and Camp­bell River.

By­ron An­dres, se­nior aqua­cul­ture bi­ol­o­gist for Fish­eries and Oceans Canada and co-or­di­na­tor of the At­lantic Sal­mon Watch Program, said both fish were caught by sport fish­er­men, sug­gest­ing they were ac­tively for­ag­ing in the wild.

An­dres said a to­tal of 42 At­lantic sal­mon have been re­ported, a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease over re­cent years. Last year and 2015, for ex­am­ples, saw no At­lantic sal­mon re­ported.

The fish are be­lieved to have come from a fish farm in the San Juan Is­lands, about 15 kilo­me­tres east of Vic­to­ria. An es­ti­mated 305,000 At­lantic sal­mon es­caped on Aug. 19.

Fish farm op­er­a­tor Cooke Aqua­cul­ture said un­usu­ally high tides and cur­rents caused the pens to im­plode.

An­dres said just over 200,000 of the sal­mon have been caught.

Bi­ol­o­gists are await­ing re­sults of sur­veys of the stom­ach con­tents of the 42 fish to de­ter­mine how suc­cess­ful the es­capees have been at for­ag­ing in the wild.

The fish ap­peared to be in good shape, An­drews said, but that should not be taken as ev­i­dence of any suc­cess in the wild.

The es­capees were all close to har­vest — al­ready big, 10 pounds and up, with the high fat body con­tent com­mon to farmed fish.

“I wouldn’t ex­pect those fish, at this point, to be starv­ing to death. How­ever, I do ex­pect that will be ul­ti­mate demise of a large por­tion of that pop­u­la­tion,” An­dres said, not­ing that pre­vi­ous re­search sug­gests that es­caped At­lantic sal­mon don’t for­age much.

The San Juan es­cape set off alarms among fish­er­man and ad­vo­cates of the wild fish­eries who fear the non-native sal­mon could es­cape farm pens, be­com­ing es­tab­lished in Pa­cific wa­ters and com­pet­ing with native species.

Of par­tic­u­lar con­cern has been the prox­im­ity of the fish farm to the Fraser River, home to some of the largest wild sal­mon runs in the world.

An­dres said at least two of the re­cov­ered At­lantic sal­mon were re­trieved from gill nets op­er­ated by fish­er­men on the Fraser.

But he also said lit­tle con­sis­tent ev­i­dence has been found of At­lantic sal­mon be­com­ing es­tab­lished in B.C. rivers. In­ves­ti­ga­tions have shown no ev­i­dence of any on­go­ing spawn­ing.

“The bulk of the ev­i­dence would sug­gest, at this point, that At­lantic sal­mon, for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons, have a lot of dif­fi­culty es­tab­lish­ing them­selves in B.C. rivers,” An­dres said.

He said ef­forts to re­cover the At­lantic es­capees will con­tinue.

Any­one who cap­tures an At­lantic sal­mon — rec­og­niz­able by its deep, large body, dark spots on its gill cov­ers and the ab­sence of spots on its tail — is asked to con­tact Fish­eries and Oceans Canada at 1-888-356-7525. Keep the head and the stom­ach to pass along to of­fi­cials.

PNG

These At­lantic sal­mon were fished from the wa­ters off Sechelt last month. They are be­lieved to be among the fish that es­caped from the col­lapsed Cooke Aqua­cul­ture fish farm in Wash­ing­ton state.

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