Fish and Game asks fishermen to report Atlantic salmon catches

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is asking that fishermen around the state report any Atlantic salmon they catch.

Damage to a salmon farm near Cypress Island off the coast of Washington in the San Juan archipelago caused thousands of farmed Atlantic salmon to escape their pens Aug. 19. Canadian aquaculture company Cooke Aquaculture operates the farm, which it obtained after it purchased Icicle Seafoods in 2016. The state of Washington is coordinating a response to contain the escaped salmon and is working with Cooke Aquaculture to remove the salmon left in the damaged pens, which was ongoing as of Sunday, according to an update from the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

Meanwhile, neighboring states — including Alaska — are asking fishermen to keep an eye out for the escaped salmon. Fish and Game issued a press release Aug. 25 asking sport anglers and commercial fishermen to report any Atlantic salmon they catch.

Fishermen should keep the fish, take a picture of it, note the location where it was caught, get a GPS location if possible and upload the location and picture on the Fish and Game website’s invasive species webpage and contact the local Fish and Game office or call the central invasive species office, according to the release.

“Atlantic salmon could potentially compete with native salmon and trout for spawning and rearing habitat and/or introduce pathogens,” the release states. “The salmon that escaped the fish farm in Washington had been treated to prevent disease transmission.”

Atlantic salmon, presumably escaped from salmon farming operations, have been caught in Alaska before. Fish and Game has verified harvests of the fish in Southeast Alaska, the Alaska Peninsula, Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet, in commercial and sport fisheries, according to the release.

Though they look like steelhead and king salmon, they are distinguishable by large black spots on their gill covers and potential damage to their dorsal and tail fins from having been raised in pens, according to the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

Because they are invasive, the regulations on Atlantic salmon are liberal, with harvest allowed year-round in salt and freshwater with no bag, size or possession limit.

Cooke Aquaculture wrote in a release that the cause of the damage is thought to be exceptionally high tides and strong currents. The company is operating under the fish escape and recapture plan it had outlined in policy, according to the release.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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