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Thousands of coho move into marina

Dan Davis pours young coho into their temporary home at Oak Harbor Marina. Eventually they should provide good fishing for Oak Harbor anglers. Observing in back, from the left, are Connie Almon, assistant harbormaster Wes George, and harbormaster Dave Williams. - Jim Larsen
Dan Davis pours young coho into their temporary home at Oak Harbor Marina. Eventually they should provide good fishing for Oak Harbor anglers. Observing in back, from the left, are Connie Almon, assistant harbormaster Wes George, and harbormaster Dave Williams.
— image credit: Jim Larsen

Oak Harbor made room for 30,000 temporary occupants on Tuesday.

Fortunately, they weren’t very big. They were tiny coho salmon that will one day grow big and provide some great fishing for Whidbey Island residents.

The truckload of fish came from the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Marblemount hatchery. Within minutes of the truck’s arrival the fish were being pumped through aluminum piping into two holding pens at Oak Harbor Marina where they will be raised for the next three months.

Wes George, assistant harbormaster, oversees the fish rearing project. He said the 2-inch coho will grow to about 7-inches before they are released to swim freely in Puget Sound. In a few years instinct will tell them to return to the area they were raised, and they fishermen will line the banks hoping to snag one on a Buzz Bomb or some other lure.

George and other marina workers will be feeding the fish daily, but they don’t mind the extra labor. “The reward is when the bank over here is lined with fishermen,” he said.

Dave Williams, harbormaster, lauded George’s efforts to keep the program going. He raised money through Puget Sound Anglers and the North Whidbey Sportsmen’s Association to construct a new holding pen in 2000. “Wes is the kingpin of this operation,” Williams said.

The net pens are solidly built. They have to be to fend off attacks from hungry sea otters and birds of prey. “We’ve had a lot of otter problems,” George said. “We’ve got nine of them now. They poke their noses at the net, sniffin’ and snortin’.” But due to the solid construction, they can’t get through and feast on the salmon.

The marina has been raising salmon since 1982 when Jim Maloney started the fisheries enhancement effort. Williams estimates the program has released 640,000 coho into Puget Sound over that time, as well as 390,000 chinook. The state is no longer providing chinook.

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