Salmon project returns to Oak Harbor marina

An old salmon rearing project with potential to boost tourism is returning to Oak Harbor.

An old salmon rearing project with potential to boost tourism, fishing and nearby orca populations is returning to Oak Harbor.

Marina Harbormaster Chris Sublet delivered a presentation on the program to the city council Oct. 27, explaining the history and benefits of the marina’s efforts to raise and release salmon into the Oak Harbor bay.

The program was founded in 1982 and ran until 2012, after which it was cut due to state budget constraints.

Oak Harbor released 30,000 to 60,000 Coho and Chinook salmon into the bay every year for a total of almost a million salmon throughout the life of the project.

Marina officials asked the state whether they could restart the program in 2018. Though the marina was initially denied, officials persisted and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife finally agreed to restart the program in May.

The program has three goals. The first is to create an outdoor classroom and allow local students to participate in feeding and releasing the salmon. Sublet said some of the fish could even be raised in children’s school classrooms.

The second goal is to revive the local salmon fishing industry. According to Sublet, the area around the marina used to be a popular area for fishing. Lately, low levels of salmon in the area have made that impossible, and the area was closed to salmon fishing in 2020 and 2021. The project could turn that around.

Revitalizing the fishing industry could prove beneficial to local tourism, too.

“Those of you that are familiar with fishing know that fishermen are crazy — they will come from miles and miles away to go salmon fishing,” Sublet said. “So we believe that by reviving this fishery effort, we’re going to aid with tourism in Oak Harbor.”

The third goal is to support the Southern Orca Recovery Task Force, which was formed by Gov. Jay Inslee in 2018. Releasing more salmon into the area will increase prey availability for dwindling Southern orca populations.

Sublet estimates the cost of the project, including building materials for two net pens, two nets and salmon food, to total a little less than $17,000. The marina is soliciting grants and donations from several local organizations. Sublet said the state may end up providing the salmon food, but the marina will turn to the city council for funding if it still needs help covering project costs.

The project is already well underway; marina volunteers built the two net pens Oct. 23.

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