OLYMPIA – In an experimental fishery set to begin today in Puget Sound, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will test a new type of fishing net that significantly increases the survival rate of fish returned to the water after they are caught.
That could make the new gear, known as the "tangle net," an important tool in protecting depleted stocks of native Northwest salmon while allowing fishers to harvest healthy runs, said WDFW Director Jeff Koenings.
"Tangle nets could be another step in the new era of selective fisheries in our state," said Koenings. "We've already made tremendous strides in that direction by marking hatchery fish, restructuring fishing seasons and reconfiguring the use of commercial and recreational gear. If the tests prove successful, tangle nets could be next in line."
Geraldine Vander Haegen, the WDFW fish biologist who is supervising the test fisheries, said tangle nets already are being used in British Columbia and are beginning to generate interest among commercial fishers here.
The main advantage of tangle nets over traditional gillnets is that they do not smother salmon by compressing their gills, she said. Instead, salmon become entangled in the small, loose weave of the tangle nets and can be disengaged with relative ease.
"The fishers I've talked to are definitely interested," Vander Haegen said. "When they turn loose salmon that are not authorized for harvest, they want to see as many of those fish as possible survive."
The department, working in conjunction with neighboring tribes, will begin testing the new nets in two areas of Puget Sound this week, followed by additional testing in other areas.
One vessel began testing the new gear today near Port Madison on the Kitsap Peninsula in a joint venture with the Suquamish Tribe. A second vessel will begin testing the new net Friday in Budd Inlet near Olympia in conjunction with the Squaxin Island Tribe.
Both of those test fisheries are expected to continue through the end of August.
Recognizing that the success of any fishing gear can vary with local conditions, the department also plans to test tangle nets in two other areas in September. One of those additional tests will be conducted in Willapa Bay and another will be conducted on the Puyallup River in conjunction with the Puyallup Tribe.
In all cases, fishers will use nets – ranging between 150 and 300 feet long – strung as traditional gillnets on one end and tangle nets on the other.
"That will allow us to gauge the effectiveness of both kinds of net under similar conditions," Vander Haegen explained.
All salmon that are turned loose from the nets will be fitted with a white, numbered jaw tag. Vander Haegen asks that any fishers – commercial or recreational – who catch one of the tagged fish call her at (360) 902-2793 to help the department assess the status of those fish.
While Vander Haegen has high hopes for the new nets, she said there is no guarantee that they will prove successful in state waters.
"It's possible that the large concentrations of jellyfish in south Sound could foul the nets," she said. "Until we have the results of the test fishery, we just won't know."