LONGVIEW - The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission called for improvements in the permitting program for hydraulics projects in or near state waters, adopted a new shrimp-management policy for Puget Sound and approved a variety of changes to state sportfishing rules at a public meeting here Feb. 7-8.
The commission also redefined Game Management Units (GMUs) so that the borders more closely conform to rivers, roads and other features that can be identified in the field. Those new GMU descriptions will appear, along with new official hunting hours also approved by the commission for game birds and game animals, in the 2003 hunting pamphlet.
Responding to recommendations by a task force that held a series of meetings with state agencies and citizens throughout the state, the nine-member commission directed the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to develop a plan in conjunction with the Governor's Office and the Legislature to improve administration of the hydraulic permit approval (HPA) process for development projects in or near state waters in several ways:
- Build upon and implement the recommendations of the Citizens' HPA Task Force;
- Improve customer service in the permitting process while strengthening the protections afforded to fish and fish habitat under the HPA program;
- Assure consistency in application of the statute and rules; and
- Ensure that those projects with the highest potential risk for fish habitat receive the highest priority.
In adopting the new shrimp-management plan for Puget Sound, the commission established the first specific numerical allocations for recreational and commercial fishers for all shrimping regions in Puget Sound.
The new plan reflects growing pressure on the resource by recreational fishers in Puget Sound while preserving commercial shrimp fisheries, said Commission Chair Will Roehl, who was recently appointed to a second six-year term by the Governor. Under the new policy, about 59 percent of the state's overall share of spot shrimp would go toward recreational harvesters, with the remaining 41 percent going to commercial fishers. Commercial fishers will be allowed to harvest about 80 percent of other harvestable species such as pink shrimp and sidestripe shrimp, with the remainder going to recreational harvesters.
Drawing on more than 1,000 written public comments received on shrimp management policies, the new management plan also directs WDFW to obtain more scientific data on shrimp stock health, overall populations and fishery impacts to stock abundance.
The revised policy follows a dramatic increase in recreational harvest effort that has led to a significant shortening of fishing seasons in some areas, said Lisa Veneroso, WDFW shellfish policy coordinator. In some areas of northcentral Puget Sound, for example, the average daily count of shrimp pots observed in the water increased by anywhere from 400 percent to 900 percent between 1999 and 2002, Veneroso said.
Venerosa said WDFW has supported exploratory fisheries in new areas of Puget Sound that could make more shrimp available for both commercial and recreational fishers.
In a separate action, the commission created a new shrimp management district near Port Townsend
In other business, the commission:
- Adopted rules to create a retail license endorsement that allows commercial salmon or crab license holders to sell their catch directly to consumers by purchasing a direct retail sales endorsement rather than a more costly wholesale dealers license. The rules implement legislation approved by the state Legislature in 2002.
- Amended salmon purse seine minimum mesh size rules for Puget Sound purse seines from four inches to three and a half inches in the main body of the net.
- Require the use of "fish excluders" on all coastal trawlers fishing for pink shrimp to protect rockfish and other species.
- Amended dogfish shark fishing rules in Puget Sound to protect shark stocks during the summer months.
- Expanded the spring spawning closure for herring in Grays Harbor and prohibited purse seining for herring in coastal estuaries.
- Created a rockfish protection zone offshore of LaPush, reduced the daily bag limit for canary rockfish to one in Puget Sound and prohibited retention of yelloweye rockfish anywhere in state waters.
- Expanded the coastal lingcod season south of Cape Alava.
- Recognized Clark County Public Utility District for its efforts in salmon recovery and education. The utility teamed with WDFW, Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation, Evergreen School District and Clark College to convert an old trout hatchery into the Columbia Springs Environmental Learning Center where more than 20,000 students have participated in environmental projects since 1997.
In addition to Roehl's reappointment as commission chair, Commissioner Ron Ozment was named vice-chair of the commission in January. Commissioner Dawn Reynolds also was recently reappointed to a six-year term on the commission.