Restoring salmon: Net pen program to expand

"The effort to replenish local salmon runs is getting a boost, thanks to two Whidbey Island sportsmen clubs.The Oak Harbor chapter of the Puget Sound Anglers and the North Whidbey Sportsmen Association recently kicked in $1,500 to help build a new salmon rearing pen at the Oak Harbor Marina.“Everybody’s pretty excited,” said marina maintenance attendant Wes George, who will be heading the construction project. “Those two groups really came through.”There are currently two pens at Oak Harbor Marina used to raise baby chinook (king) and coho (silver) salmon. The pens were constructed in 1982 with volunteer labor and $1,900 in materials provided by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.It’s a little-known program that has added a lot to the local salmon fishery. A total of 550,000 coho and 300,000 chinook have been released from the local fish pens since they were built.The tagged salmon fingerlings, supplied by the state, are fed for a few months in Oak Harbor Bay and then released into Puget Sound. While some journey out to the North Pacific Ocean, most will spend their lives in Puget Sound.The salmon return to Oak Harbor after three years, George said, and look for a freshwater river or creek to spawn in. Since they won’t find one on North Whidbey, the fish tend to bunch up in the corners of Oak Harbor Bay until fishermen catch them or they die.State biologist Pete Castle said the main goal of the local salmon program is to give recreational fishing a boost. “In some years these fish have shown up fairly well in the recreational catch,” he notes.To increase the likelihood that the fish stay in Puget Sound, Washington Fish and Wildlife officials are asking that the local chinook get an extended stay in their pens — from November to April, instead of the traditional February release.That means a third pen is needed to raise the coho, since the same pens have been used to alternately raise both the chinook and coho.Local sportsmen are not only putting up the money, they’re also donating volunteer labor. George said the new pen will be built in February and March."

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