At least one escaped Atlantic salmon has reached South Sound waters, tribe reports

Eric Fowler of Pt. Orchard guts his pink salmon near the shoreline of the Puyallup River off River Road on Friday, Sept. 1.
Eric Fowler of Pt. Orchard guts his pink salmon near the shoreline of the Puyallup River off River Road on Friday, Sept. 1. phaley@thenewstribune.com

Of the thousands of Atlantic salmon that wriggled into the Salish Sea through broken fencing at a Cooke Aquaculture Pacific farm off of Cypress Island, not a one had turned up on the hook of fishermen standing in the muddy waters of the Puyallup River on Friday morning.

“They have no scent here, so they won’t know where to go,” said Kevin Lee, 45, after cleaning his morning haul of coho and putting the catch away in a clear plastic bag.

That might change soon in the Puyallup and other Tacoma-area waterways.

At least one Atlantic salmon has made it into South Sound waters.

The Nisqually tribe told The News Tribune on Friday that an escaped Atlantic salmon was caught Sunday by a tribal member fishing the Nisqually River that afternoon.

“It was ugly,” Nisqually Harvest Program Manager Craig Smith said via email. He described the fish as about 75 centimeters and “scrawny.”

The fisherman wanted to cook and eat the fish, but comments about its appearance had dissuaded him somewhat, Smith said.

“No one was very excited about how healthy it looked,” he said.

David Troutt, the Nisqually tribe director of natural resources, said more of the non-native fish are expected to turn up in the tribe’s catch during a Sunday-Tuesday fishery.

Spokesmen for the Puyallup Tribe and the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission each said Friday they had not yet heard of any other Atlantic salmon turning up in the South Sound. Officials at the Point Defiance Marina boathouse also said they had not heard of anyone locally bringing in an Atlantic salmon.

State officials have said there is no limit on the number of Atlantic salmon fishers are allowed to take.

Shortly after the news of the Cooke Aquaculture pen failure came to light, the chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community warned that farmed fish were “headed to every river in Puget Sound,” a Seattle Times report said.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife has an up-to-the-moment online map on which nearly 1,600 catches of escapee Atlantic salmon by sport fishermen had been logged as of Friday afternoon. The catches run from from Texada Island, B.C., to Neah Bay near Washington’s northwest tip. The southernmost: a pair of Aug. 23 catches off Seattle’s Alki Beach.

But that’s just what has been reported by sport fishermen who fill out the state’s report-your-catch form.

The whereabouts of the rest, and even how many there might be, are mostly unknown.

As of Friday, the Department of Natural Resources estimated that upward of 160,000 of the farm’s total 305,000 total Atlantic salmon got loose, based on company reports that it had recovered about 142,000 of the fish.

“It’s a massive industrial salvage operation,” DNR spokeswoman Cori Simmons said. “I’ve been on site, and I can tell you it’s a giant, twisted mass of metal and net. It’s pretty crazy.”

Friday morning on the Puyallup River, Eric Fowler, 37, hauled in two pink salmon and his daughter, 13, caught a third.

Afterward, he said he didn’t have any plans to augment his own catch by going into the ocean looking for Atlantic salmon, but he questioned the presence of the fish farms if the possibility of fostering an invasive species exists.

“It’s hard enough to stock your own pond, on your own property, with trout, because they’re afraid it’s going to do something,” he said. “The state needs to figure out what it’s doing.”

Derrick Nunnally: 253-597-8693, @dcnunnally