Salmon escape data requested

With thousands of Atlantic salmon now swimming freely nearby after a fish farm in the San Juan Islands was damaged last Monday, Salt Spring biologists and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans need help cataloguing them.

The breach and spill of an unknown number of farmed Atlantic salmon into waters around the San Juan Islands is surrounded by controversy. What was first reported as 3,000 to 4,000 fish from a pen damaged by an irregular tide due to the Aug. 21 solar eclipse has fallen under scrutiny by scientists and activist bodies. They say the tide wasn’t extreme enough to wreck the pen and the amount of net damage suggests far more of the 305,000 fish it held escaped than originally claimed. The Lummi Nation stated Monday that it had already caught some 20,000 of the fish.

Now it is up to anglers to help scientists and the government track the spread of the species.

Kathy Reimer, a salmon enhancement biologist on Salt Spring Island, said she is concerned about diseases common in fish farms spreading and the possibility that the fish might take over native habitats and spawning grounds. She urges anyone who catches an Atlantic salmon around the Gulf Islands to contact her and put the fish on ice.

“We’d be willing to pick them up,” she said. “This fall we’ll be watching for them in Fulford Creek for sure,” she added, noting that there is a chance they will invade native habitats on the island.

Anyone catching an Atlantic salmon should make a report to the DFO, whose personnel are tracking the invasive species through the Atlantic Salmon Watch program.

“We encourage anglers who catch an Atlantic salmon to report it via our toll-free [ASW] number at 1-800-811-6010. Donating the carcass to DFO provides us with valuable samples for our scientific study,” said DFO communications advisor Michelle Rainer in an email to the Driftwood.

For more on this story, see the Aug. 30, 2017 Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper or subscribe online.

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