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April 29, 2004
Contact: Greg Bargmann (WDFW), 360-902-2825
Sandy Howard (Ecology), 360-407-6239

Low dissolved-oxygen conditions scuttle lingcod, halibut openings on Hood Canal

OLYMPIA - Recreational fisheries for lingcod and halibut previously scheduled to open in Hood Canal the first week of May will remain closed until further notice, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) announced today.

Both fisheries will be delayed this year - and possibly cancelled - because of continuing problems with low dissolved-oxygen levels in the 60-mile-long fjord, said Greg Bargmann, WDFW marine fish manager.

Fisheries for herring, smelt, squid, octopus, sea cucumbers and most other species of bottomfish have been closed since Feb. 17 for the same reason, Bargmann said.

"These conditions can really take a toll on marine fish that live low in the water column," Bargmann said. "We had hoped that conditions would improve by the time fishing seasons for lingcod and halibut came around, but unfortunately that is not the case."

Dissolved-oxygen levels measured in Hood Canal by the Washington Department of Ecology through early spring were the lowest on record for those months, Bargmann said. At least three fish kills in the canal were attributed to the condition since 2002, he said.

The Puget Sound Action Team is currently working with the U.S. Geological Survey to determine the cause of the depleted oxygen levels, often attributed to increased levels of nitrogen in the water column. Dissolved oxygen levels recorded this month in some areas of the canal were low enough to kill fish, Bargmann said.

"There are many possible causes for Hood Canal's water problems, but people who live nearby can help by making sure their septic tanks are working and by keeping fertilizers and animal manure from washing down hill," said Sandy Howard of the Washington Department of Ecology.

Fisheries have a role to play, too, Bargmann said.

"A lot of marine fish - including lingcod and halibut - are under stress right now, and that makes them especially vulnerable to harvest," Bargmann said. "We don't want to add to that risk by opening fisheries."

The lingcod fishery in Marine Area 12, which includes Hood Canal south of the Hood Canal Bridge, was originally scheduled to open May 1. The halibut fishery was scheduled to open May 6.

Bargmann said WDFW does not plan to open those fisheries - or others closed since Feb. 17 - until dissolved-oxygen levels in Hood Canal show significant improvement.