Cook Inlet fish thought to be an Atlantic salmon

If true, discovery raises concerns over threats to wild Pacific salmon

Posted: Friday, July 14, 2006

KENAI - A fish caught near Kasilof could become the first documented Atlantic salmon discovered in Cook Inlet, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

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"This one definitely does look like an Atlantic salmon," Jeff Fox, a Fish and Game management biologist, said Wednesday.

All previous reports of suspected Atlantic salmon in Cook Inlet have been false alarms, he said. Approximately 600 reports of Atlantic salmon caught in Alaska waters have been confirmed.

Concerns raised by Atlantic salmon found in Alaska waters include several potential threats to wild Pacific salmon, including the spread of disease and competition.

The suspected Atlantic salmon was caught near Kasilof, off of Cohoe beach. Resource managers have asked that it be tested at the department's genetics lab in Anchorage.

"Every key characteristic fits," said Bob Piorkowski, the invasive species coordinator for Fish and Game.

Piorkowski said he first received a call reporting the fish Friday.

Joel Doner, the setnet fishermen who caught the fish, has been puzzling over it since July 1, when he first discovered the large-scaled fish on his boat.

"I saw about the mid-third of his back where I could just see his scales," Doner said. "And I knew it wasn't a Pacific salmon just by that. I know Pacific salmon inside and out."

As he approached the fish, Doner said he initially thought it was a sheefish, but even after he decided that it wasn't, he struggled to pin an identity on the mysterious fish.

"When I picked it up I thought it was a steelhead," he said.

But upon closer inspection, Doner noted several characteristics that did not match up with a steelhead and discarded that idea, as well.

"It didn't have spots in its tail. It didn't have any color at all. It had big dark spots on its gill plates and a small mouth," he said.

And Doner said although the fish he caught was about as big as a large sockeye, it was shaped like a long and narrow torpedo, rather than the football-like shape he identifies with sockeye salmon.

Among some of the key identifying characteristics of an Atlantic salmon are an anal fin with eight to 11 rays and a mouth that does not extend past the far edge of the fish's eye, Piorkowski said.

As long as Alaska's wild Pacific salmon stocks remain strong, there may be little room for competition from Atlantic salmon, but that might not always be the case.

"There is a chance that sometime in the future they could compete with our Pacific salmon," Piorkowski said.

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