Around 50 At­lantic salmon caught in B.C. wa­ters

Vancouver Sun - - CITY - RANDY SHORE rshore@post­media.com

At least eight At­lantic salmon have been caught in the Fraser River and nearly 50 in to­tal in B.C. wa­ters fol­low­ing a fish farm in­ci­dent in Wash­ing­ton state.

The At­lantic Salmon Watch pro­gram run by Fish­eries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has re­ceived “cred­i­ble” re­ports of three At­lantic salmon be­ing caught in the Fraser, ac­cord­ing to se­nior aqua­cul­ture bi­ol­o­gist By­ron An­dres.

How­ever, five more At­lantics were caught Sept. 12 by the Pa­cific Salmon Com­mis­sion’s gill­net test fish­ery at Whon­nock, ac­cord­ing to the com­mis­sion’s data.

Thou­sands of At­lantic salmon were re­leased in the wa­ters off the San Juan Is­lands Aug. 19 when a Cooke Aqua­cul­ture fish farm con­tain­ing 305,000 fish was dam­aged.

Around 200,000 of those fish — in­clud­ing 43,000 caught by Abo­rig­i­nal fish­ers from the Lummi Na­tion — are ac­counted for, An­dres said.

The DFO sur­veil­lance pro­gram has re­ceived 37 re­ports to­talling 42 At­lantic salmon since the in­ci­dent, with re­ports com­ing from as far north as Tofino and Camp­bell River. That fig­ure does not in­clude fish in­ter­cepted by the Pa­cific Salmon Com­mis­sion’s test fish­eries.

Chi­nook en­ter­ing the Fraser River to spawn are un­likely to com­pete with At­lantic salmon for food.

“Most of our Pa­cific salmon species, by the time they en­ter fresh wa­ter are fin­ished feed­ing,” An­dres said.

“Some early spring Chi­nook spend quite a while in fresh wa­ter, but the fall en­try fish don’t feed.”

Be­tween 2011 and 2017, the sur­veil­lance pro­gram con­firmed three At­lantic salmon caught in B.C. wa­ters and recorded eight un­con­firmed re­ports.

“This re­cent spate of re­ports, which is pre­sumed to be a re­sult of the es­cape that hap­pened in Wash­ing­ton state, com­prises a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in the num­ber of At­lantic salmon caught in B.C. wa­ters,” An­dres said.

The At­lantic Salmon Watch is ask­ing the public to take pic­tures and re­port cap­tures of At­lantic salmon to the pro­gram web­site via email or a tele­phone hot­line.

An­glers are asked to re­tain the head and stom­ach for iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.

Bones from the head can help con­firm the ori­gin of the fish and stom­ach con­tents can be used to de­ter­mine whether the fish are for­ag­ing for food suc­cess­fully and what they are eat­ing.

The pro­gram will ini­ti­ate snorkel sur­veys this fall to look for At­lantic salmon in rivers fre­quented by Pa­cific salmon species. Public re­ports will de­ter­mine which river sys­tems are sur­veyed.

The At­lantic salmon be­ing caught by an­glers are re­ported to be in good con­di­tion.

The farm fish were close to har­vest age and car­ry­ing a good deal of stored en­ergy in the form of fat, but even­tu­ally most will starve and die.

“Es­caped At­lantic salmon don’t for­age much at all,” An­dres said.

“I wouldn’t ex­pect those fish at this point to be starv­ing to death, how­ever I do ex­pect that would be the ul­ti­mate demise of a large pro­por­tion of that pop­u­la­tion.”

An­dres down­played the like­li­hood that At­lantic salmon can gain a per­ma­nent foothold in Pa­cific wa­ters.

While At­lantic salmon and ju­ve­niles have been found in B.C. rivers, there is no ev­i­dence they have be­come es­tab­lished spawn­ers. De­lib­er­ate ef­forts to col­o­nize At­lantic salmon in the Pa­cific have failed, he added.

“Many thou­sands of (At­lantic salmon) have been re­leased in an at­tempt to es­tab­lish them in B.C. for com­mer­cial and sport-fish­ing pur­poses and there is no ev­i­dence that any of those ef­forts ever took,” he said. “At­lantic salmon, for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons, have dif­fi­culty es­tab­lish­ing them­selves in B.C. rivers.”

Sur­rey sport an­gler Adam de Bosch Kem­per caught this At­lantic salmon in Au­gust, be­fore it broke free, off a White Rock beach. It is be­lieved to be from the Cooke Aqua­cul­ture fish farm in the San Juan Is­lands.

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