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Otters take toll on coho in hatchery

Suquamish Tribe natural resources technician Bill Alexander, right, and shellfish technician Ron Harrell make sure the baby coho are transferred from truck to barge Feb. 26 at Keyport Naval Undersea Warfare Center.          - Kipp Robertson / Herald
Suquamish Tribe natural resources technician Bill Alexander, right, and shellfish technician Ron Harrell make sure the baby coho are transferred from truck to barge Feb. 26 at Keyport Naval Undersea Warfare Center.
— image credit: Kipp Robertson / Herald

GORST — Six trips between the Gorst Creek Hatchery, Keyport and Agate Pass Feb. 26-27 resulted in more than 200,000 baby coho salmon being delivered to net pens.

The total amount of coho — known as smolt at this stage in their lives — was about 100,000 fewer than during the 2012 operation.

“We have otters,” hatchery manager Mike Huff said. “Otters have a tendency to do some damage.”

In 2012, the Suquamish Tribe  collected about 320,000 smolt from the hatchery it operates with the City of Bremerton. This year, 212,650 were transferred, Huff said.

The hatchery does have methods to protect the fish from intruders, but the otters still find ways to get to the coho, including swimming up pipes, Huff said. A chain-link fence, would help, Huff said.

The transfer, a Suquamish Tribe operation that resumed in 2010, involves multiple steps. Eggs are fertilized and incubated at the state’s Minter Creek Hatchery near Purdy and then transferred to the Gorst hatchery, about 20 miles south of Naval Undersea Warfare Center, Keyport.

Once they reach the 1.5-year-old smolt stage, the coho are ready to transition from living in freshwater to saltwater before being released for their migration to the ocean.

The fish are held in net pens slightly smaller than an Olympic-sized swimming pool. The fish spend about three months acclimating to salt water prior to being released.

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

Puget Sound coho are considered a “species of concern” under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Other species of concern are steelhead and chinook, Huff said.

“We are pleased to have another successful year of coho smolts ready for saltwater, and excited for the fall return of our 2010 brood,” Suquamish Tribe fisheries biologist Jay Zischke said in a press release. “The forecast is for approximately 8,000 adult coho to return to the Agate Pass area in late September and October.

“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.”

 

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