A lot of salmon

Young salmon shoot into a holding pen at Pillar Point Harbor on May 11. Carina Woudenberg / Review

This month there are truly more fish in the sea.

Or there will be anyway, after the Coastside Fishing Club gets its final delivery of 160,000 baby salmon on May 25. That would make for a total of 480,000 fish delivered to the local shore in May.

This is the fifth year for the delivery and release of the smolt at Pillar Point Harbor. Bruce MacKimmie, who sits on the club’s board of directors, estimates that the club has put 2 million salmon in the Pillar Point Harbor waters. Some of those salmon are making their way onto Coastsider’s dinner plates.

MacKimmie was on hand for the May 11 delivery at Pillar Point Harbor. “Our returns are really good,” he said, meaning that some of the fish has been caught locally.

The data indicates that more than 3 percent of the fish released through the Coastside Net Pen Operation has been caught in local waters. The fish are also showing up in Oregon and even as far north as Vancouver, British Columbia, said Tom Mattusch, owner and captain of the Huli Cat and founding member of the Coastside Fishing Club.

“We’re just starting to get the good success,” Mattusch said, adding that he often sees up to 20 or 30 people catching salmon off the harbor’s fishing pier.

Three percent may not sound too impressive on its own but it compares favorably with other releases. For example, in 2012 the Coleman Hatchery yielded a 0.23 percent yield, the San Pablo Net Pens yielded 0.89 percent and the Santa Cruz Net Pen produced 2.26 percent.

The Santa Cruz Net Pen has since closed, in part because its success brought too many people into the harbor who ended up trashing the place, some fishermen say.

The other part of the equation was that the Santa Cruz salmon were spawning in the San Lorenzo River and competing for resources with the steelhead trout that also spawn there, said Jim Anderson, a local fisherman who serves on the Salmon Stamp Committee and was responsible for getting the Coastside Net Pen Operation off the ground five years ago.

This year, the young salmon journeyed via truck from the Mokelumne River Hatchery, east of Lodi.

Bill Smith, manager at the hatchery, said the fish live a nice life there in 3,000-square-foot pens.

The Coastside Fishing Club is responsible for inoculating the fish to protect them from disease — a small risk that can come with keeping the fish in close quarters.

For five days the fish sit in the harbor with netting above that protects them from the gulls and netting below, which keeps them out of the mouths of sea lions.

They are provided with fish food periodically from a solar-powered feeder and when their five days are up they are released in the harbor.

“They come here and feel pretty comfortable,” said Anderson. “We get a lot of anchovies … that’s perfect food for the baby salmon.”

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