U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region photo A male Atlantic salmon, such as those which escaped a Washington State fish farm near Anacortes over a week ago.

Escaped Atlantic salmon in Lower Mainland waters

Salmon that escaped fish farm caught between White Rock and Crescent Beach

Some of the Atlantic salmon that escaped a fish farm in Washington State more than a week ago are now being caught in the Semiahmoo Bay area.

And Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) wants local anglers who catch any of the non-native species to report it through a toll-free number, or by email.

The DFO confirmed Wednesday that three Atlantic salmon – presumed to be among thousands accidentally released from the Cooke Aquaculture salmon farm near Anacortes on Puget Sound on Aug. 19 – were caught off the Semiahmoo Peninsula on the weekend.

“The call came in today and the fish were caught on Saturday somewhere between White Rock and Crescent Beach,” DFO communications advisor Michelle Rainer said in an email to Peace Arch News.

“We were able to confirm they were Atlantic salmon through photographs,” she added.

According to the DFO website, the occurrence of smaller numbers of Atlantic salmon in B.C. waters – usually the result of leaking pens in fish farming operations – has been studied since 1991.

Since Cooke Aquaculture’s commercial net pen collapsed, anglers from the Lummi Nation in Washington State have reportedly caught some 90,700 kilograms of Atlantic salmon – the equivalent of 20,000 fish.

The company, which operates in Canada, as well as Washington State and Maine, blamed the net failure on unusually high tides and currents that coincided with last week’s solar eclipse.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials originally estimated that 4,000 to 5,000 fish had escaped. The fish were safe to eat, they said, and had last been medicated with antibiotics in 2016.

But Rainer said DFO is not taking the same approach as the Washington department which, she said, “is encouraging anglers to fish the Atlantic Salmon.”

“We do not want increased pressure on Canadian stocks of chinook and sockeye,” she said.

Rainer noted that Atlantic salmon are not categorized as salmon in B.C. sport fishing regulations, but as “unlisted finfish.”

“As such, anglers may retain 20 of these fish per day, with no size limit,” she said.

“This must occur in only areas open to fishing for native salmon – fishing for any salmon in closed areas is not permitted in order to reduce fishing pressure on Pacific salmon species.”

But Rainer said DFO is encouraging B.C. anglers who catch Atlantic salmon to report it through the Atlantic Salmon Watch number at 1-800-811-6010.

“Donating the carcass to DFO provides us with valuable samples for our scientific study, but they can also email a photograph with a report to aswp@dfo-mpo.gc.ca.,” she said.

“DFO reviews all reports to determine an appropriate response, which may include additional monitoring (such as stream surveys).”

More information on the Atlantic Salmon Watch Program, including how to identify an Atlantic salmon and what to do if you catch one, is available on the DFO website at: www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/science/aquaculture/aswp/index-eng.html.

– with files from Saanich News