Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times Lorne Balanko casts his line Thursday at Bush Point. Atlantic salmon from the recent net pen failure have been reportedly caught in the area, as well as other places around Whidbey.

Escaped Atlantic salmon biting on Whidbey

After the recent net pen failure that resulted in the release of over 300,000 Atlantic salmon, the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife is encouraging people to catch as many of the non-native fish as they can.

Although the release happened at Crooke Aquaculture’s Cypress Island location near Anacortes, there have been reports of Atlantic salmon caught in a variety of locations across Whidbey Island.

There is currently no size or catch limit on the species in an effort to protect the native Pacific salmon population.

“We certainly don’t want them to compete with our natural fish for food or spawning habitat,” said Ralph Downes, Fish and Wildlife game warden on Whidbey.

The Lummi Nation declared a state of emergency on Thursday in response to the situation. In a statement, Timothy Ballew II, chairman of the Lummi Indian Business Council, encouraged all tribal fishermen to continue fishing the waters through the weekend to remove as many of the fish as possible.

Anglers hoping to catch the fish can use the same lures used for catching Pacific salmon, such as Buzz Bombs. Downes said lures often used for trout, such as small spinners or spoons, can also be used.

“They’re used to being hand-fed on a routine basis,” he said. “They’re pretty anxious to bite anything that might resemble food.”

Atlantic salmon have reportedly been caught at Bush Point and even as far south as Clinton. Fishers at Bush Point said people have found success there in the early morning and evenings.

Angler Lorne Balanko said he thought it was “amazing” the fish had made it down to Bush Point so quickly.

“It’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out,” said Balanko.

Fish and Wildlife said in a statement that the released fish are safe to eat. Anglers must have a valid fishing license and must observe gear regulations but don’t have to report Atlantic salmon on their catch record cards.

• WDFW posted a salmon identification guide on their webpage at www.wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/salmon/atlantic.html so fishers know what to look for.

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