OLYMPIA – State salmon managers are encouraging anglers to fish for thousands of Atlantic salmon that escaped recently from a salmon farm near the San Juan Islands.
Cooke Aquaculture notified the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) of a net pen failure on Aug. 19 that caused the release of Atlantic salmon from the Cypress Island location. About 305,000 salmon were in the net pen at the time, though the company initially estimated that only 4,000-5,000 fish have escaped. Cypress Island lies along Rosario Strait between Guemes and Blakely islands
“Our first concern, of course, is to protect native fish species,” said Ron Warren, head of WDFW’s Fish Program. “So we’d like to see as many of these escaped fish caught as possible.”
Warren said there is no evidence that these fish pose a threat to native fish populations, either through disease or crossbreeding with Pacific salmon. To date, there is no record of Atlantic salmon successfully reproducing with Pacific salmon in Washington’s waters, he said.
“It will be some time before we know how many fish escaped the net pens,” Warren said. “That’s why we’ve authorized Cooke Aquaculture to fish with beach seine nets and we’re encouraging anglers to go out and harvest these fish.”
The escaped fish are estimated to be eight to 10 pounds in size and are safe to eat.
There is no size or catch limit on Atlantic salmon. However, anglers may only fish for Atlantic salmon in marine waters that are already open to fishing for Pacific salmon or freshwater areas open for trout fishing. Anglers also must stop fishing for Atlantic salmon once they’ve caught their daily limit of Pacific salmon.
To help anglers identify Atlantic salmon, WDFW has posted a salmon identification guide on its webpage at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/
Anglers must have a current fishing license and must also observe gear regulations identified in the 2017-18 sport fishing rules pamphlet. Anglers do not have to report Atlantic salmon on their catch record cards.
WDFW shares management authority with the state Department of Agriculture for monitoring fish diseases. Other state departments, local governments and tribal governments have authority related to the siting of marine aquaculture and water quality.