If you’re an ecologist, you probably hate it. If you’re a sport salmon angler, maybe you hate it and maybe you don’t. Either way the Atlantic salmon are here and fishermen are being encouraged to make the most of a difficult situation.
It’s been almost two weeks since a whole bunch of farmed Atlantic salmon were inadvertently released by the collapse of a series of net pens in Deepwater Bay on the southeast corner of Cypress Island in the San Juans, and anglers are learning where they are and how to catch them. The latest total release figure, according to state Department of Fish and Wildlife Puget Sound salmon manager Mark Baltzell, is about 185,000 fish, and the reported sport catch as of Monday stood at about 1,180. The fish average 8 to 10 pounds, with a few in the low teens.
The state considers Atlantic salmon an invasive species and encourages anglers to catch as many as possible and to keep them all. There is no size or catch limit, but all other (Pacific) salmon fishing regulations currently in effect apply. A license is required, fishing for Atlantics is open only in those fresh or marine waters open to Pacific salmon fishing, and you must stop fishing when you reach the Pacific salmon limit. Atlantics need not be recorded on a salmon card, but the state asks that anglers report when and where they were caught on an online form: http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/salmon/atlantic_salmon_catch.php.
Cypress Island lies on Rosario Strait, between Guemes and Blakely, reasonably close to the Washington Park launch west of Anacortes. Most of the escapees seem to be hanging around the south end of Cypress, but a percentage are drifting farther afield. Atlantics have been caught at Neah Bay and Sekiu, off Edmonds, in Hood Canal, and off the Seacrest Pier in Seattle. They also have been seen in the Nooksack, Samish and Skagit rivers, according to Baltzell.
While a few Atlantics have been caught by anglers trolling with standard salmon gear, the majority have been taken by jiggers in relatively shallow water. A number of Atlantics reportedly have been caught in about 30 feet of water.
“They are aggressive biters,” said Kevin John at Holiday Sports in Burlington. “Guys are using a range of one- to two-ounce jigs; Point Wilson darts, Buzz Bombs, Rotators, spinners, Wicked Willies and weighted spoons, and even fishing brown Power Bait on the bottom. Effective jig colors seem to be shiny stuff: nickle/blue, nickle/green, and white. But use a slow twitch, don’t over-work it.”
Both John and Baltzell said to stay shallow, along the shoreline, and look for surface activity.
“They go on and off the bite, just like any other salmon,” John said. “They fight pretty good, although they may not have quite the stamina of one of our chinook.”
Atlantics are easy to distinguish from our Pacific species. They have large black spots on their gill covers.
On the table? You’re likely to get an argument about that, because there seems to be a little pre-judgment out there.
“Some guys say flat out they wouldn’t eat one,” John says. “But others say they’re fine, with good color and a lot of fat. … People eat hatchery trout without thinking about it. I don’t know what they feed these fish, but when you clean them, you notice how fat they are. If nothing else, they should be exceptional smokers or canners.”
While some people worry about polluting the gene pool of our native salmon species, there seems to be little or no hard evidence to support claims of cross-breeding.
And one more factoid: Washington is the largest open-water salmon farming state in the country. Oregon has no open-water farms, and both California and Alaska prohibit the industry.
In a small but welcome victory for outdoor recreationists, Governor Jay Inslee recently extended Larry Carpenter’s term on the nine-member Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission to Dec. 31, 2018.
The commission sets policy for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Carpenter, who was initially appointed to the commission in December of 2011, currently serves as vice-chair of the commission. He is an avid salmon angler and a strong advocate for the sport fishery on a panel with voices advocating commercial and other interests, and there had been some resistance to his continued service on the commission. He was a longtime owner of Master Marine in Mount Vernon, a recreational boating service business.
Also appointed to fill a vacancy on the commission was Don McIsaac, from rural Clark County, to a term ending Dec. 31, 2022. McIsaac recently retired from his position as executive director of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which oversees fisheries management in ocean waters three to 200 miles off the Pacific coast. He previously worked for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the then-Washington Department of Fisheries.
Members are appointed to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission for six-year terms and are subject to state Senate confirmation. Three members must reside in Eastern Washington, three in Western Washington, and three may live anywhere in the state. No two members may live in the same county.