A small gathering of children, parents and other onlookers crowded onto a dock at the Oak Harbor marina to witness the release of 30,000 juvenile salmon into the wild.
The coho salmon were transported to the marina in mid-January from Marblemount Fish Hatchery in Skagit County. The fish arrived in a large tank on the back of a truck and then traveled down 150 feet of tubing into two wooden pens with nylon knotless net.
The fish were about a year old and only a couple of inches long when they arrived in the marina. The salmon quickly grew, however, as marina staff fed them three times a week. They were each roughly a foot long on the day they were released.
Three years from now, the salmon will return to the waters surrounding Oak Harbor, where anglers will get a shot at reeling them in.
“We hope for 10% but we’ll be happy with 3-5% of that 30,000,” Oak Harbor Marina maintenance attendant Alyce Henry told the crowd.
Those in attendance were given cups of fish food to coax the fish out of their pens. Many children excitedly peered into the water to catch a glimpse of the swimming bodies while parents held onto the backs of their life jackets.
The fish-rearing program originally started in Oak Harbor in 1982 and continued until 2011. In that time, about a million fish were raised and released into the bay, according to Harbormaster Chris Sublet. The program returned last year.
The three goals of the program are to revive fishing in the Oak Harbor area, create outdoor classrooms and learning opportunities for local school children and to support Gov. Jay Inslee’s orca task force mandate. Southern resident killer whales feed primarily on salmon which, along with the orcas, are in decline.