SUQUAMISH (March 24, 2003) — Corporate sponsorship is widespread in the Puget Sound region nowadays. SAFECO Field and Key Arena are two examples. While salmon net pens near Bainbridge Island aren’t on the same scale as those two facilities, the pens are equally as important to the area, especially to fishermen.

Because budget constraints this year have forced the Suquamish Tribe to discontinue its net-pen operation at Agate Passage, the tribe is looking for a sponsor, big or small, to help fund the program in the future. Without those funds, the highly successful operation, which is a cooperative with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, could be dead in the water. For the past two decades, about 600,000 hatchery coho salmon have been released each year from net pens in front of the Suquamish Tribal Center. Coho released from the net pens return to the area a year later in the fall and contribute substantially to local sport and tribal fisheries.

“Everybody, commercial, sport, treaty tribal fishermen, benefits from the return of these fish each year,” said Paul Dorn, salmon enhancement program manager for the Suquamish Tribe. “Unfortunately budget problems are keeping us from using the tribe’s state-of-the-art facility this year. Hopefully, there’s a group out there that is willing to sponsor the program and keep it going. It would be neat if we end up with something like, ‘Bank of America Coho from Agate Pass.'”

While this year’s closure, the first in 23 years of operation, is a setback, the tribe has made the best of the situation. About 205,000 coho smolts that would have been held in Agate Passage this year are instead being raised in Little Clam Bay. Personnel from the U.S. Navy’s Manchester Fuel Depot and the Port Orchard Rotary Club are helping raise the fish. An additional 150,000 juvenile coho that would have been at Agate Passage were transferred to South Sound net pens. Those fish make up for a shortfall in coho this year at the South Sound facility, which is operated as a cooperative between the Squaxin Island Tribe and WDFW.

The Navy came through with $5,000 to purchase a new net for their surface float at Little Clam Bay, and also will contribute an additional $2,000 toward fish food. Those funds for fish food were cut from WDFW’s Agate Passage budget this year. Without the Navy’s timely help, coho might start disappearing from East Kitsap County, said Dorn.

In February, Minter Creek hatchery workers transferred the coho to Little Clam Bay, where they will be released in May. The additional 150,000 juvenile coho in South Sound will be released this summer, but in the Squaxin Island area.

Ray Frederick, president of the Kitsap Poggie Club, said the Suquamish Tribe’s coho program contributes greatly to the local sport fishery and is important to local anglers. “The program has worked well,” Frederick said. “It has reintroduced coho salmon runs to a lot of streams in this area.”

The Suquamish Tribe is hopeful that a source of revenue, totaling about $35,000, will become available to keep the program afloat, said Rob Purser, fisheries director for the tribe. Shutting it down would be a big loss to all types of fishermen throughout the entire Puget Sound region.

“We are lucky to have the Rotary Club and the Navy helping with the project this year,” Purser said. “But if the program is going to continue, we need to receive healthy juvenile coho from the state each spring and we need to keep those fish in the net pens at Agate Pass. If we don’t use the pens, we could lose the facility, along with our annual supply of hatchery fish from the state.”

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For more information, contact: Rob Purser, Suquamish Tribal Fisheries Director, (360) 394-5244. Paul Dorn, Salmon Recovery Coordinator, (360) 394-5245. Darren Friedel, Information Officer, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, (360) 297-6546, dfriedel@nwifc.org.