Fisherman catches salmon that likely escaped from B.C. fish farm

Posted: Tuesday, October 07, 2003

A commercial gillnetter near Petersburg found a 10-pound Atlantic salmon state officials say probably escaped from a British Columbia salmon farm.

The 30-inch fish was caught near Point Baker south of Petersburg on Sept. 8 and turned in Friday, Alaska Department of Fish and Game officials said Monday. Agency scientists confirmed that the fish was an Atlantic salmon and not native to Southeast waters.

"The invasive threat of escaped farmed fish is an escalating problem," said Fish and Game Commissioner Kevin Duffy. "More fish farms in British Columbia are proposed and the lack of safe containment continues to plague the industry and threaten Alaska's salmon industry."

Hundreds of escaped Atlantic salmon have been caught in Alaska's marine waters over the past decade, one as far north as the Bering Sea, according to the department. The fish caught in September was the second Atlantic salmon found in Alaska this year, said Bob Piorkowski of the agency's Invasive Species Program. The other was caught in Copper River. Six were caught last year. Fewer Atlantic salmon are being caught in Alaska waters because fish farmers are taking better precautions against escape, Piorkowski said.

But state fisheries scientists say they are most concerned with the adult salmon that have been captured in Alaska Pacific salmon spawning streams since 1998. They worry that Atlantic salmon may become established in Alaska by pushing out wild Pacific salmon, rainbow trout and steelhead in areas where stocks or salmon spawning habitats are stressed.

Piorkowski said Atlantic salmon could disrupt the ecosystem of Alaska waters, causing a decrease in the native Pacific salmon population.

"A lot of this is speculation because it hasn't happened yet. In Norway you have had depression of wild stocks of 30 percent due to farmed Atlantic salmon coming in and disrupting the reproductive processes," he said.

Piorkowski said farmed salmon don't have the innate knowledge of mating and reproductive rituals that wild salmon do.

Fish and Game officials say tens of thousands of Atlantic salmon escape each year from British Columbia salmon fish farms and some are successfully breeding in British Columbia streams.

The agency is asking citizens who catch Atlantic salmon not to release them, but to turn them in to Fish and Game for scientific analysis. Officials recommend freezing the fish if delivery is delayed. Wallet-sized Atlantic salmon identification cards are available at all Fish and Game offices.

The department plans to survey several streams in Southeast Alaska next spring to determine whether young Atlantic salmon are present. A similar program by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife last spring found hundreds of young Atlantic salmon in a salmon stream.

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