Around 50 Atlantic salmon caught in B.C. waters
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.