In a unique partnership, the Suquamish Tribe and the U.S. Navy recently transferred more than 300,000 juvenile coho salmon to the tribe’s net pen in Agate Pass for the third year in a row.

Coho salmon smolts being transferred from Gorst Hatchery in Bremerton to Agate Pass near Suquamish.

“Working with the U.S. Navy to help move the coho smolts has been key to the success of the program since we revitalized it in 2010,” said Jay Zischke, the tribe’s marine fish manager. Between 2003 and 2010, the tribe’s net pen operation was on hiatus due to rearing and budget constraints. Prior to 2003, the tribe was releasing coho smolts into Agate Pass for two decades for both tribal and non-tribal harvesting.

Young fish for this year’s transfer were bred at the state’s Minter Creek Hatchery near Purdy in 2010, then transferred in January to the tribe and city of Bremerton’s Gorst Hatchery. In March, the smolts were then transferred to the naval base at Keyport, using tanker trucks from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

At Keyport, approximately 320,000 smolts were loaded onto a tribal barge, which ferried the fish to the Agate Pass net pen. The pen is slightly smaller than an Olympic-sized swimming pool. The fish will spend nearly three months in the pen acclimating to the saltwater environment and imprinting on the area prior to being released in June.

“We’re pleased to once again help the Suquamish Tribe with this important fish transfer,” said Capt. Stephen Iwanowicz, Commander, Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Keyport. “NUWC Keyport and the Navy are committed to building on our strong relationships with our Native American neighbors and being good stewards of our environment.”

Net pen operations like this are common throughout Puget Sound and contribute greatly to fisheries. During the first two decades of the Agate Pass program, 600,000 hatchery coho were released each year from the net pens.