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Eclipse blamed for accidental release of thousands of Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound

The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is calling all fishermen to help catch thousands of farmed Atlantic Salmon that were accidentally released  just off Cypress Island in the San Juan Islands. (Photo: KOMO News)

ANACORTES, Wash. (KOMO) -- The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is calling all fishermen to help catch thousands of farmed Atlantic salmon that were accidentally released just off Cypress Island in the San Juan Islands.

On Saturday, Cooke Aquaculture had a net pen failure that caused the release of Atlantic salmon in Puget Sound.

The company says 305,000 fish were in the net pen but believes only up to 5,000 escaped.

The company released a statement to KOMO News that said in part, “Exceptionally high tides and currents coinciding with this week’s solar eclipse caused damage to a salmon farm that has been in operation near Cypress Island for approximately 30 years.”

Salmon managers with WDFW are encouraging anglers to catch and keep the fish.

“Our first concern, of course, is to protect native fish species,” said Ron Warren, head of WDFW’s Fish Program. “So we’d like to see as many of these escaped fish caught as possible.”

When Tonja and Mike Oliver heard there were thousands of Atlantic salmon that escaped a salmon farm, they packed up their boat Tuesday morning in Lakewood and made their way to the San Juans.

“We’ll just troll around with the fish finder and see what we can find,” said Tanja Oliver.

Meanwhile Tribal Fishers are concerned about the native population of salmon. The organization “Our Sound, Our Salmon” said fisherman from the Lummi Nation have already caught some of the Atlantic salmon in their nets south of Bellingham.

The boat launch at Washington Park in Anacortes teemed with fisherman Tuesday, ready to help get the fish out of Puget Sound.

“That’s the big concern, is doing damage to an already diminishing population of salmon in the Sound,” said Oliver.

Warren said there is no evidence that these fish pose a threat to native fish populations, either through disease or crossbreeding with Pacific salmon.

To date, there is no record of Atlantic salmon successfully reproducing with Pacific salmon in Washington’s waters, he said.

There is no size or catch limit on Atlantic salmon. However, anglers may fish only for Atlantic salmon in marine waters that are already open to fishing for Pacific salmon or freshwater areas open for trout fishing.

To help anglers identify Atlantic salmon, WDFW has posted a salmon identification guide on its webpage. Click here to view that guide.


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