OLYMPIA – Starting this winter, commercial crab fishers licensed in Washington will also need an Oregon license to set crab pots in federal waters off the Oregon coast, under a reciprocal agreement approved Saturday (Oct. 8) by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission.
The commission’s action, consistent with federal law, came just one day after the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted a similar requirement for Oregon crabbers fishing off the Washington coast.
The reciprocal agreement applies to federal waters from three to 200 miles off the coast of both states.
“The goal of this agreement is to improve both states’ ability to manage the commercial crab fisheries off their coasts,” said Ron Ozment, who chairs the Washington commission. “For crabbers, it will also reduce competition on the fishing grounds.”
The nine-member commission, which sets policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), approved the new policy by a unanimous vote. All five representatives of Washington’s commercial crabbing industry who testified on the measure supported its adoption.
“This is a great day for the Washington crab fishery,” said Steve Gray, a veteran commercial crabber and part owner of a cannery in Chinook, Washington. “This action will give this state control over its own fishery.”
With a dockside value more than $30 million per year, Washington’s coastal crab fishery is one of the most valuable commercial fisheries in the state, said Phil Anderson, who heads WDFW’s intergovernmental relations office.
Of the record 21 million pounds landed in Washington ports last season, more than half was harvested in federal waters beyond the state’s three-mile jurisdiction, he said.
Under federal law, a state can enforce its crab-fishing regulations on vessels operating in federal waters off its coast, but it cannot exclude vessels licensed in another state from fishing there. Only the state that issued the license has that authority, Anderson said.
Under the reciprocal agreement, Washington and Oregon will prohibit commercial crabbers licensed in their states from fishing in federal waters off the other’s coast – unless those crabbers are licensed in both states.
“This agreement will greatly improve both states’ ability to maximize the benefits of their offshore resources and stabilize their respective commercial fisheries,” Anderson said.
In a separate action, the Washington commission also adopted a “fair start” provision for the coastal crab fishery in the event one portion of the coast opens for crab fishing before another.
If, for example, the southern portion of the Washington coast opened for fishing on Dec. 1 and the northern area opened Dec. 15, a vessel that started fishing Dec. 1 would not be allowed to fish in the northern area until Jan. 15, Anderson explained.
“One advantage to this approach is that each license holder will have an opportunity to fish an opener,” said Anderson, noting that half of the coastal crab catch is usually taken within the first 15-18 days of fishing. “In addition, it will avoid massive transfers of crab pots from one area to another, providing more order to the fishery.”
On other matters, the commission:
- Reviewed more than 100 proposed changes in state fishing rules in preparation for a public comment period at its next meeting Nov. 18-19 in Vancouver, Wash. (See the WDFW website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/com/meetings.htm for more information.)
- Received a briefing by WDFW shellfish managers on the success of measures approved in May to extend the length of the recreational crab fishery in Puget Sound. (Call the Shellfish Hotline at 866-880-5431 or see the department’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/do/newreal/release.php?id=oct0705a for information on extended seasons.)
- Approved implementation of a new buoy tag system for the coastal commercial crab fishery, similar to one in effect in Puget Sound.