News & Opinion | August 30, 2017 9:00 am

Washington Just Declared Open Salmon Season After a Farm Breach

One company’s negligence is another man’s 'Nice catch!'

Would you believe that one of the unexpected outcomes of the eclipse was higher tides?

That’s the scapegoat that Cooke Aquaculture Pacific is pointing the finger at to explain the recent escape of 305,000 Atlantic salmon near Cypress Island in Washington State’s San Juan Islands (map).

Not so fast, say scientists. There’s no data suggesting the tides were affected by the astronomical phenomenon. In fact, in a recent lawsuit, the Wild Fish Conservancy blamed the breach on faulty equipment.

Regardless of the whose at fault, those fish can’t be there, so Washington State has declared open season on Atlantic salmon fishing. You can catch as many as you want, so long as you follow a few simple rules. And here’s what we know of all of this.

Why is this a bad thing?
Atlantic salmon are an invasive species in Washington. Though they don’t cross-breed with the native Pacific salmon population, they do pose risks. First, farmed fish (like livestock) are pumped full of antibiotic-resistant drugs that help them survive unnatural living conditions, so they’re more likely to pass along parasites to native species. Second, these fish will compete with the local guys for food.

Is there a limit on how many you can catch?
Not for the Atlantic salmon. Fishermen are catching hundreds of Atlantics — so many that they’re literally giving them away. You can keep as many as you can catch; however, if you catch your limit of Pacific salmon (10) and trout, you need to call it a day for all fishing. The good news is farmed fish aren’t as wise as natives, so they’re more likely to take the bait. Here are the rules from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

How do you tell the difference between an Atlantic salmon and a Pacific salmon?
Pacific salmon look way cooler. Kidding. Atlantic salmon have black dots over the gill covers, and often have a damaged dorsal, ventral or tail fin from living in captivity. They also have no spots on the tail and a fatter tail fin (here are images).

Are these fish safe to eat?
According to the Department of Fish and Wildlife and Cooke Aquaculture Pacific, yes. But we prefer our fish wild — not only because they’re healthier, but also because they’re more ethical. This is one instance in which it’s OK to fish solely for the sport of it, and to keep the wild populations thriving.

How should I go about helping out?
The Lummi nation, a local Native American tribe, is leading efforts to catch these fish because it’s where they fish for food. So you could help them. The Wild Fish Conservancy is also pitching in with lines in the water and legislative action. Or, just get a Washington State fishing license, a cabin on the San Juans and a boat.