KEYPORT – Following a 7-year hiatus, the Suquamish Tribe is restarting its Agate Pass coho salmon net pen operation this spring.  The program was discontinued in 2003 because of budget and rearing constraints.

Coho salmon smolts were transferred through a fish pump at the Gorst Hatchery, and into a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife fish transfer truck. The truck took the fish to a dock at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Keyport, where a Suquamish tribal barge loaded the fish into the barge’s holding tank, then emptied them into the tribe’s net pen near Agate Pass.

“It’s great to be able to reengage this program because it provides a Kitsap-based coho fishery opportunity for tribal members, with benefits for non-treaty fishers as well,” said Jay Zischke, the tribe’s marine fish manager. “This has been a multi-year collaboration, which has involved working with our co-manager, Washington State, the city of Bremerton and the U.S. Navy.”

The tribe transferred 265,000 coho smolts from Gorst Hatchery to its net pen near Agate Pass on Monday, March 1, located between Suquamish and Bainbridge Island. The smolt stage of a salmon’s lifecycle is when the fish are ready to transition from living in freshwater to saltwater before heading out to sea.

Using Minter Creek Hatchery stock, the one-and-a-half year old coho were transferred from the Gorst Hatchery to a dock at the U.S. Navy’s Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Keyport using Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife fish transfer trucks.

At Keyport, the smolts were loaded on to a tribal barge, which took the fish out to the 70,000 cubic foot net pen.

The fish will spend nearly three months in the pen before being released this spring. They are held in the net pen to acclimatize to the salt water environment and to imprint on the area so they return to the Agate Pass area as adults.

Net pen operations like this are common throughout Puget Sound and are often successful in contributing to Washington fisheries. During the first two decades of the Agate Pass program, 600,000 hatchery coho were released each year from the net pens. Puget Sound coho are considered a “species of concern” under the federal Endangered Species Act.  All of the Agate Pass produced fish are marked with an adipose fin clip.

“We are pleased to partner with the Suquamish Tribe on this important fish transfer,” said Captain Stephen Iwanowicz, Commanding Officer of Naval Undersea Warfare Center, Keyport. “This is a great example of how the Navy is committed to being good stewards of the environment, along with deepening the strong relationships we have with our Native American neighbors.”

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For more information, contact: Jay Zischke, Suquamish Tribe fisheries management biologist/marine fish manager, at (360) 394-8444 or jzischke@suquamish.nsn.us; or Tiffany Royal, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission information officer, at (360) 297-6546 or troyal@nwifc.org.