Strange fish invade Washington waters

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SEATTLE — An eight-foot white sturgeon was seen floating belly up in Lake Washington. A 16-pound dorado was caught near Ilwaco. Two Atka mackerel were reeled in at Westport and Ilwaco.

Some strange fish have been showing up in Western Washington waters this summer.

“We’ve definitely seen a few weird fish this year, and the latest were two Atka mackerel caught at Westport and Ilwaco,” said Wendy Beeghly, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist.

“While these fish are called a mackerel they’re really a greenling,” Beeghly said. “They usually don’t come down past the southern part of Alaska, and I don’t ever recall seeing them in the 25 years I’ve worked here.”

The Atka mackerel was named for Atka Island, the largest island of the Andreanof Islands in the Aleutians. They have been found, though very rarely, as far south as southern California.

Many anglers are starting to head offshore to pursue albacore tuna, and a possible state-record sport catch for a dorado occurred Aug. 1 off the southern coast.

Albert DaSilva of Kelso caught a 16-pound dorado while fishing 35 miles out of Ilwaco. The fish, more commonly found in the warmer southern West Coast waters, was caught trolling a purple/black clone lure.

Pink salmon, which return mainly to Puget Sound and southern British Columbia waters during odd-numbered years, are now being seen as far south as the Columbia River.

“At Bonneville Dam they’ve had 10 pinks go through as of (Aug. 7),” said Joe Hymer, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist.

In 2011, more than 3,828 wayward pinks found their way up the Columbia, and that was the most dating to 1938, when Bonneville Dam was completed.

Keith Magnuson, who lives in Seattle along the shores of Lake Washington, was water skiing on Aug. 3 when he came across a large dead white sturgeon north of Matthews Beach.

“We sampled the white sturgeon, and it was about 8 feet long,” said Bethany Craig, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist. “We took some tissue samples for DNA, and took the leading pectoral fin rays to determine its age. There is no way to know how it died.”

The badly decomposed sturgeon — which isn’t a common fish to find in the big urban watershed — was then taken out into the middle of the lake and sunk by the fisheries biologists.

Another sturgeon was found in the lake in 1987, measuring 11 feet long and weighing about 640 pounds. A 5 ½-foot sturgeon was caught in 2005 by a fisheries research boat.

Sturgeon are one of the oldest fish — dating to prehistoric times — and one of the largest freshwater fish species in the world, growing up to 20 feet long and weighing more than 1,000 pounds. They are bottom-dwellers and feed on small fish, shrimp clams, crayfish and a variety of other things.

Sport anglers pursue white sturgeon in the Columbia River, at estuaries of Puget Sound rivers and in the Fraser River in southern British Columbia.

Other unusual fish that appeared earlier this summer were two striped bass in the Columbia.

A state fisheries sampler saw a dead striped bass, weighing approximately 15 pounds, on June 22 in the Columbia near Lyons Park at Woodland. Another was a 52-pound striped bass caught June 17 in the Lower Columbia Gorge by a commercial fisherman.

Striped bass are caught in the northern California region, but catches this far north are rarely seen. In early July 2008, a 40-pound striped bass was caught in the Gorge, and a second striper was caught near Deep River on the Washington side of the Columbia.

Lastly, a pacu was caught by a sport angler last weekend in Lake Ki, 8 miles northwest of Marysville. The South American fanged fish related to the piranha likely came from someone’s aquarium tank and was dumped into the lake.

“It is considered an invasive species, and we discourage people from doing that sort of thing,” said Annette Hoffman, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist. “These types of fish can create havoc on the ecology.”

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