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Pumpin' fish

By KATHRYN REYES

In order to ensure that fishing remains an attraction, the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Oak Harbor Marina and the Oak Harbor Yacht Club are raising salmon fingerlings that are due for release in the surrounding waters of the city in three months.

More than 30,000 “pink babies” made Oak Harbor their new home on Valentine’s Day when the salmon fingerlings were transported from the WDFW’s Marblemount Hatchery. It’s the 24th consecutive year the program has been conducted in Oak Harbor.

Phil Whitlock, assistant harbormaster, had the privilege of welcoming the fish to their new home, which is located in the waters along the dock of the marina. A total of 500 pounds of coho salmon were hauled in Thursday and Friday. Two fish pens, 16 feet wide by 25 feet long, are provided for the little fish, each housing over 15,000 coho.

On Thursday, Whitlock said the finned critters’ transfer from Marblemount Hatchery to Oak Harbor Marina is very traumatic for them. “This morning they were just in fresh water, then there was the truck ride and now they’re in saltwater.”

The salmon were pumped into the pens through a plastic tube to complete the transition from fresh to saltwater.

Whitlock said the fingerlings in each pen will be fed with approximately 7 pounds of food pellets every day for the next three months. “Out of the 30,000 fingerlings, around 20,000 of them will make it,” Whitlock said. He added that people who wish to drop by and feed the fish themselves are welcome to do so every morning between 9 and 9:30, but make sure you contact the marina in advance.

“We feed the fishes every morning and people can come to feed them around that time whenever they want,” Whitlock said.

Come May, the salmon will have grown in size and will be ready to be released into the Saratoga Passage. After three years, the fish will return to the marina area, proving excellent angling from boats and along the shoreline.

Although it is not firmly established how salmon eventually find their way back to local waters, their keen sense of small is most likely involved.

By the time the fully-grown fishes are back, they will be ready to spawn. A salmon’s life cycle requires it to return to its fresh water birthplace to lay eggs. With the fish believing that the waters around the city is where they originally came from, schools of salmon will assemble in the area in search of fresh water. When that happens, it is going to be one heck of a salmon feast for anglers.

Salmons that went through the same process three years ago are due to come back this fall in time for the fishing season. “This is all done for sport fishing,” Whitlock said. “It is also good that it is done for free for the community.”

Judging from the turnout of anglers during the salmon fishing season every year, Whitlock said that the annual project has been very successful.

For more information about feeding the baby salmon, call the Oak Harbor Marina at 679-2628.

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