State shuts down salmon pens at marina

"The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife has stopped net-pen rearing of chinook salmon at the Oak Harbor Marina as well as everywhere else in the state. The reasons for the action are time, money and the risk of diluting the wild chinook gene pool, according to Adam Couto of the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife.Hatchery chinook mate with wild chinook - which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act - and dilute the wild chinook gene pool.The net-pen rearing is counterproductive to the ESA, said Oak Harbor Marina's harbormaster Dave Williams. We don't view this as a setback.The ESA puts priority on preserving native fish runs, and the state wants to limit the wild/hatchery ratio.The survival rate of those fish was substantially less than at the state hatcheries, said Couto. The fish raised in net pens cost the state approximately $50 a fish in food costs, according to Couto. The Oak Harbor Chapter of the Puget Sound Anglers, in conjunction with state Fish and Wildlife, built the first net pen at the Oak Harbor Marina in 1982. The North Whidbey Sportsman Association joined PSA to help build another pen a year and a half ago.Couto said state biologists have had to take a hard look at the effectiveness of the net-pen system.We have to make a benefit/risk evaluation, he said. We had to ask ourselves if this was the way that citizens want us to spend our time.Chinook are not the only salmon raised in net pens. Coho are also being reared in net pens and this program is not being stopped. In fact, Oak Harbor Marina's salmon pens may now be devoted entirely to coho.We would consider additional coho to replace some of the chinook, said Couto. It has been offered to all of them.Additional coho have been offered to the Oak Harbor Marina, according to Williams. Williams says the Oak Harbor pens have been used to raise chinook in early spring and coho in February. The pens have been used yearly to rear 30,000 of each type of fish.Williams noted that the fishing for coho was fairly good in Oak Harbor Bay last season. And while the loss of that fishery will reduce some of the local chinook catch, at least it looks like the coho program will be maintained.The coho will replace the chinook in some cases, said Williams. "

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