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Fish Handling Suggestions

Bringing in salmon on the Willapa River
Bringing in salmon on the
Willapa River

In our tests of selective fishing gear, we have learned a few techniques to reduce injury/stress and improve survival of salmon caught in nets:

  • Keep the soak time of each set to approximately 20 minutes (from time net is put into the water until time the net is taken out of the water).
  • Look ahead while pulling in the net. As caught salmon approach the boat, manually pull in the net and lift the fish over the net rollers to bring them on board.
  • When a salmon is barely caught in a net, use a knotless dip net to retrieve the fish while it's still in the water to prevent it from escaping.
  • Lift caught fish over the bow's rollers to prevent them from being injured when bringing in the net.
  • To revive fish that are not visibly respiring, place the fish in the recovery box as quickly as possible, grasp the fish by the caudal fin, and gently move it in a backward/forward motion in the recovery box filled with water that is rapidly being pumped into the box. Continue for a minute or so, then place the fish's mouth directly on the water being pumped into the box. Keep it there until the fish revives.

Chinook caught in tangle net
Chinook caught in tangle net

  • Don't give up! Non-respiring fish may take up to an hour to revive from being caught in the net.
  • To create a "fish friendly" environment, recovery boxes should be dark in color- either use dark materials or paint the box black, dark brown, dark blue, or dark green. Minimize the amount of light shining directly on a fish in the recovery box.
  • Handle the fish carefully. Whenever possible, do not allow the fish to fall on the boat deck (to prevent injury to the fish). Use two hands to carry the fish from one place to the next: place one hand to grip the fish's tail, the other underneath and cradling the fish's belly. Never carry a fish by its tail! (doing so can separate the fish's vertebrae). Absolutely avoid touching the fish's gills- these are easily injured and are critical for survival. Fish should be slipped carefully into the recovery box, not thrown!
  • Upon release of salmon back to the river, if your recovery box is not equipped with a sluice gate, use two hands to carefully release it overboard (make sure the fish clears the side of the boat). Aim the fish in a direction away from the net to minimize the likelihood that the fish will be recaptured.