OLYMPIA - The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission approved fishing closures in the Elwha River Basin linked to the impending removal of two major dams and adopted new Puget Sound crab-fishing seasons for 2011 during a meeting here Feb. 4-5.
The commission, which sets policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), also approved new restrictions on recreational and commercial fisheries in the western Strait of Juan de Fuca to protect bottomfish.
The Elwha fishing moratorium, set to begin in March of 2012, is designed to protect native salmon and trout during demolition of the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams and encourage their expansion into 70 miles of new spawning and rearing habitat.
The fishing moratorium, which will remain in effect until further notice, was previously endorsed by the National Park Service and the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe for the fisheries they manage in the watershed.
The commission’s action will not, however, close all fishing in Lake Sutherland, which is linked to the Elwha River by Indian Creek. Fishery managers had previously proposed closing fishing in the lake, currently open year-round, as part of a strategy to rebuild salmon runs in the watershed.
"The public made a strong case that we should allow fishing in Lake Sutherland at least part of the year," said Miranda Wecker, commission chair. "We agreed on an approach that will support salmon recovery without closing fishing year-round."
Effective May 1 of this year, only kokanee and trout measuring 6-18 inches can be retained at Lake Sutherland, which will close for the year Nov. 1, 2011. Starting next year, the new rules adopted by the commission also will limit fishing for kokanee and other game fish in Lake Sutherland from the last Saturday in April through the end of October.
In other action, the commission approved new regulations for the 2011 recreational crab season that reflect a new policy adopted last October to expand sport fishing opportunities for Puget Sound crabbers.
Those new regulations allow sport crabbers to fish for Dungeness crab in Puget Sound five days a week - Thursday through Monday - with a five-crab daily limit. Most of Puget Sound will be open from July through Labor Day.
The exception is Marine Area 7 (San Juan Islands), where crab seasons will open later in the season to protect soft-shell crab. Sport crab fisheries in the southern and eastern portion of Marine Area 7 will run from July 15 through Sept. 30. In the northern portion of Marine Area 7 the sport crab fishery will be open from Aug. 15 through Sept. 30.
Winter crab-fishing opportunities in marine areas of Puget Sound will vary depending on the number of crab still available for harvest after summer catch numbers are tallied.
Also during the February meeting, the commission reduced the daily bottomfish limit from 15 to 10 for recreational anglers and closed several commercial marine fish fisheries in Catch Area 4B (western Strait of Juan de Fuca). The changes provide additional protection for bottomfish in the western Strait of Juan de Fuca.
The commission also approved:
- Changes in state fishing rules on a variety of issues, including closing fishing for Columbia River smelt (eulachon) statewide. Summaries of the rule changes, as adopted, will be available on the department’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/rule_proposals/ by mid-February.
- An updated management policy for Columbia River summer chinook salmon, which retains the 50/50 allocation between recreational and commercial fishers downstream from Priest Rapids Dam.
- Amendments to commercial bottomfish, forage fish and shellfish fisheries in Puget Sound designed to protect rockfish populations.
- Updates to the North of Falcon policy, which provides direction to fishery managers in defining annual salmon fishing seasons in Washington’s waters.
In addition, the commission held public hearings on amendments to rules for buying or selling of game and changes to recreational clam and oyster seasons on Puget Sound beaches.
For more information about future commission meetings, visit WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/commission/.