Central Coast salmon group's fish-rearing pens need a home

dsneed@thetribunenews.comSeptember 12, 2013 

Central Coast Salmon Enhancement has been given until the end of the month to remove these idle fish-rearing pens from storage at Port San Luis.

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

Central Coast Salmon Enhancement is facing the end of an era.

The fisheries conservation group will no longer be allowed to store its idle fish-rearing pens at Port San Luis after the end of the month. If the group cannot find a new place to store the pens or a way to use them, they will have to be scrapped, said Thorv Hessellund, president of the group’s board of directors.

“We now seem to have no choice but to let the pens go,” he said.

It is the latest in a string of setbacks the group’s fish-rearing program has suffered starting in 2008, when the state Department of Fish and Wildlife defunded the program and revoked its permit due to the collapse of the state’s salmon fishery at the time and concerns that salmon could displace steelhead trout in San Luis Obispo Creek. Until then, Central Coast Salmon Enhancement released 140,000 king salmon smolts a year into the ocean at Avila Beach.

Since then, the group’s two rearing pens have been stored at Port San Luis’ Harbor Terrace property near the entrance to Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. In March, Port San Luis harbor commissioners gave the group a deadline of Sept. 30 to remove the pens.

“We’ve been very supportive of Central Coast Salmon Enhancement over the years,” said Steve McGrath, Port San Luis harbor manager. “But if the project is gone, we’d like to see the pens gone, too.”

The two pens consist of plastic pipe frames measuring 47 feet by 22 feet along with nets to keep out predators and birds. They could be used for a variety of types of aquaculture. Any group that can dismantle them and haul them away can have them, Hessellund said.

The fish-rearing program’s demise began in 2008 when a severe winter storm destroyed two of the group’s four pens. The state closed the salmon-rearing program later that year.

Since then, the group had been trying to get permission from the state to rear white sea bass in the remaining two pens. This year, the state ruled that white sea bass could not be reared north of Point Arguello at Vandenberg Air Force Base and shut that program down, too.

“Nowadays, CCSE is primarily focused on watershed restoration and classroom education,” Hessellund said. “Our membership base has evolved from primarily fishermen to a broader spectrum of fishing enthusiasts, educators and conservation proponents.”

Central Coast Salmon Enhancement can be contacted at 473-8221.

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