A February warm spell aided the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe in its annual net pen transfer operation that began nearly 30 years ago.

Hatchery technician Ben Ives Sr. adjusts the net on the net pen in Port Gamble Bay.

Tribal hatchery manager Tim Seachord and natural resources staff worked with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to bring 425,000 coho salmon smolts from the state’s George Adams Hatchery in Hoodsport to Port Gamble Bay.

Over the course of four days, the young fish were hauled from the hatchery to a tribal barge, then floated out to the tribe’s 63,000-cubic-foot net pens near Point Julia. The fish will remain in the pens until June before being released and will return to the area as adults. The tribe has been putting this operation into place since 1981.

“These fish are for everyone, tribal and nontribal, to be harvested when they come back as adults next fall,” Seachord said. “It’s been a pretty successful program for nearly three decades for all fishermen who participate in the Port Gamble Bay and Hood Canal fisheries.”

All of the fish have coded-wire tags inserted in their snouts. The millimeter-long tag contains information about its hatchery of origin, release date and other data. Their adipose fins also are removed to mark them as hatchery fish.

“This fishery has been successful because we have lost so many fishing opportunities over the years with listings of fish under the federal Endangered Species Act,” said Paul McCollum, the tribe’s natural resources director. “Having a local fishery has been critical for fishermen, both tribal and non tribal.”

The tribe also appreciates its partnership with Pope Resources, which has allowed the tribe and WDFW to access the bay via one of its docks in the historic town of Port Gamble, and has been key to the program’s success, McCollum said.

Net pen operations contribute significantly to successful fisheries in Puget Sound. Other net pen operations in the area include the Suquamish and Muckleshoot tribe’s Elliott Bay net pens and the Suquamish’s newly restarted Agate Pass net pen operation.

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For more information, contact Paul McCollum, Port Gamble S’Klallam natural resources director, at (360) 297-6237 or paulm@pgst.nsn.us; Tim Seachord, Port Gamble S’Klallam hatchery manager, at (360) 297-3933 or timbear@pgst.nsn.us; or Tiffany Royal, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission information officer, at (360) 297-6546 or troyal@nwifc.org.