Feature Article: Baby Salmon in Net Pens

Hundreds of thousands of baby king salmon now in Half Moon Bay net pens

Speical to Western Outdoor NewsPublished: May 29, 2019

HALF MOON BAY — The first of a load of 240,000 4-inch-long baby salmon destined for the net pens in Half Moon Bay have been offloaded for a week of acclimation and rearing prior to release in the ocean, and the rest of the delivery of small kings were slated for May 25 and June 1. The program is being carried out by the Coastside Fishing Club volunteers and the DFW.

Tanker trucks from the State-operated Mokelumne Fish Hatchery east of Lodi delivered the first of the three loads this year at 9 a.m. on Saturday, May 18, to Johnson Pier at Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay.

BABY SALMON BEING delivered from the Mokelumne River Fish Hatchery are dumped into floating net pens in Half Moon Bay for protection and allowed to acclimate prior to being released into the ocean. Survival rates for salmon raised in net pens is about 30 times better than being released from hatcheries.

This year, volunteers from the Coastside Fishing Club are introducing nearly three-quarter- million baby Chinook salmon to the salty waters of the Pacific Ocean to augment 2021-2022 salmon returns. The fish will mature in the wild over the next two to three years and be caught by commercial and recreational fishermen from Monterey Bay north to British Columbia. By the June delivery, these same volunteers will have successfully acclimated more than 4 million salmon from 2012 to 2019.

After delivery of the baby salmon, the net pen will be towed to the middle of the harbor and moored where the baby salmon will safely feed and acclimate for five days before being released to the open ocean.

“In spite of years of drought, we are catching salmon this year. A big part of the reason is that the fish we acclimated and reared here in Half Moon Bay are now adults swimming in our coastal waters,” said Marc Gorelnik, chairman of the Coastside Fishing Club and founder of its ocean net pen project.

“The Coastside Fishing Club has a great group of volunteers whose efforts rearing salmon in Half Moon Bay’s harbor have helped to provide salmon fishing for several years,” said Coastside Fishing Club volunteer coordinator Bruce MacKimmie.

“We’ve figured out how to raise baby salmon that survive at much higher rates than other hatchery salmon and they’ve become a great value to coastal communities that rely on salmon,” said Coastside net pen coordinator Doug Laughlin. In fact, baby salmon reared in the Coastside net pens survive up to 30 times the rates seen in fish reared in Central Valley hatcheries and released at the hatchery.

Baby hatchery salmon acclimated by Coastside Fishing Club volunteers yield much higher survival and are caught at higher rates than any other hatchery-bred salmon.

There are three reasons for the success of the net pens: First, unlike wild baby salmon, these fish do not need to navigate the treacherous Delta and the massive water pumps located there. Second, unlike other hatchery bred salmon trucked and released at Mare Island, these fish swim directly into the ocean once released, reducing exposure to predators. Third, the five-day net pen acclimation allows the baby salmon to better adapt to their natural environment and food sources.

With five years of drought and excessive water pumping, California’s salmon fishery is more dependent than ever on hatchery-produced salmon.

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