Net pens in local waters could be a major boost to the salmon population. After searching for locations around the Bay Area to place the pens, Coastside Fishing Club has homed in on Pillar Point Harbor.

"It's not just for the club, but for anyone coming over to the coast wanting to fish salmon," said Paul Pierce, who sits on the board of Coastside Fishing Club, a locally based community of recreational fishermen.

After canceled salmon seasons in 2008 and 2009, the fishery has bounced back. But there remains room for improvement. California anglers are looking for means to improve the situation. One option is net pens. The San Francisco Tyee Club in Tiburon has been raising baby salmon, or smolts, since 1973, and the Monterey Bay Salmon and Trout Project has been at it since 1976.

Taking a page from these organizations' books, in 2007 the Coastside Fishing Club began looking into the possibility of starting its own salmon pen project.

The club has been working through the bureaucratic process for about a year. In recent weeks, San Mateo County Harbor District board members and California Department of Fish and Game approved Coastside Fishing Club's request to put pens in the outer harbor at Pillar Point.

"There don't seem to be any local streams where the fish would stray to," Pierce said. He added that the club chose Pillar Point because it has support from local commercial fishermen and the harbor district.

The idea behind the pens is to truck the smolts to Pillar Point Harbor, explained district General Manager Peter Grenell. This would allow them to bypass 200 miles of dangerous river travel. They'd avoid predators and the possibility of getting sucked into pumps sending water to Southern California.

The club has asked the state to release 180,000 smolts, likely from Feather River Fish Hatchery near Oroville. Survival rates aren't very high, and fish managers have struggled with quantifying survival rates and last year began tagging fish.

Once the smolts are released from the pens, they will hang close to the coastline near their release point for up to several months. For a minimum of two years, they'll stay in salt water and migrate around the west coast. When they're ready to lay eggs, they'll head under the Golden Gate Bridge and return to the river of their origin.

Duncan MacLean, who fishes off of a commercial vessel, the Barbara Faye, notes that pen projects have been successful in other areas and could be a great thing for Pillar Point.

"We need to get more fish to the ocean, and one of the biggest problems we see now is the mortality from the hatcheries out to Golden Gate," he said. Anglers are allowed to catch the salmon once they achieve legal size, after two or three years.

One pen, installed in April, would house the smolts, giving them about a week to acclimate to local waters. There will be about three loads of smolts in the first year. In the future, the club hopes to bring in another pen and release as many as 500,000 smolts.

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