Farmed Atlantic salmon are still being found in Puget Sound rivers, despite state experts saying they are wasting away and not turning up on spawning grounds.
Even as state agency experts were assuring legislators that Atlantic salmon from a spectacular August escape are goners, tribal fishermen were catching Atlantics in the Skagit River, one of Washington’s premier salmon habitats.
State lawmakers convened two weeks ago in a House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee work session on the salmon escape were assured by managers from the state departments of Fish & Wildlife and Ecology that the fish were wasting away and not showing up on the spawning grounds.
But that is not what some tribal fish managers are seeing.
“I can tell you they are free swimming and they are healthy and alive,” Scott Schuyler, Natural Resources Director for the Upper Skagit Tribe, told The Seattle Times on Thursday. He said tribal fish technicians keep on catching Atlantics as they fish with tangle nets for chum to gather broodstock for the tribal hatchery.
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Fishermen caught six Atlantics the week of Nov. 13, as the lawmakers were meeting, and five more Thanksgiving week in just a short fishery in a small area of the river near Hamilton, Skagit County.
“The Skagit is a big river, and the fact we were catching that many in just a little stretch of river when they were out for just a few hours, they have got to be all over,” Schuyler said of the Atlantics, “which is very concerning …
“The Skagit River is the largest contributor of chinook to the Puget Sound … so it is extremely important that we continue to monitor the Skagit for years to come for any potential adverse effects.”
More than 100,000 Atlantics were never found after the escape from Cooke Aquaculture’s Cypress Island net-pen farm the weekend of Aug. 19. The farm contained 305,000 Atlantics from 8 to 10 pounds in size at the time.
The tribe has not yet confirmed from ear bones in the fish that they were Cooke’s, but they are presumed to be, as Atlantics are not usually caught in the Skagit, home to Pacific salmon. The fish had empty stomachs, and were more than one pound less in weight than the Atlantics caught by the tribe soon after the initial escape, said Bob McClure of the Upper Skagit…