Pacific pink salmon have recently been spotted in the White Bay area of Newfoundland, and may have traveled previously unthinkable distances to reach Atlantic waters.
Pink salmon, also known as humpback salmon, are generally found in Pacific and Arctic waters, but have been seen off the north coast of Newfoundland in recent years. The last major sighting, the start of what Neville Crabbe calls a new wave of sightings, was in 2017.
“It has this elongated body and silvery colors with some spots and other markings, but it’s easily identifiable, upon a little closer inspection, as not being an Atlantic salmon,” Crabbe, executive director of communications for the Atlantic Salmon Federation. Atlantic. he told CBC Radio last week.
“To my knowledge, the first pink salmon from this latest wave…was found in the Gander River in 2017. And that year, another pink salmon was caught near Cartwright.”
Pink salmon have also been detected in rivers in Labrador, Quebec, other parts of Atlantic Canada, and the eastern United States.
Although it is unclear how long pink salmon have been in provincial waters, efforts have been made to stock the fish in other parts of the world.
The first big storage program took place in Russia in the 1960s, Crabbe said.
“They were taken from a large island in the Russian Pacific called Sakhalin Island, and released as fry in some rivers that flow into the White Sea,” he said. “It was first tried in the 1960s and 1970s, and the fish didn’t catch… The Russians tried it again in the 1980s and 1990s, and the fish caught. And since then they’ve popped up and around Scandinavia.”
However, Russia wasn’t the only place to experiment with storage programs, and one of those places is pretty close to home.
Crabbe said that Fisheries and Oceans Canada also ran a storage program in Placentia Bay between 1959 and 1965.
While the population was deemed unsuccessful, marine biologist Cyr Couturier believes there is a possibility that the fish sighted came from Canadian attempts to introduce pink salmon into provincial waters.
“We had some success introducing them in the 1960s on the south coast. Within a year or two it found some spawners, some repeat spawners,” Couturier said.
“We have it here in our waters off the east coast of Canada. It’s also naturalized in the state of Maine, and there’s a lot of indication that these populations are somewhat self-sufficient.”
Couturier said other factors could be bringing salmon to Newfoundland and Labrador, including climate change and the search for a new spawning ground.
Both Crabbe and Couturier say it’s too early to say what kind of impact salmon will have on Atlantic salmon populations, but pink salmon are considered an invasive species by the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization.
More work is needed to determine exactly where the fish are coming from, Couturier said, but he thinks the impacts on the native population would be minimal.
“It shouldn’t be a real big threat,” he said.