OLYMPIA -- The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will pursue
resolution of a Whatcom County judge's decision that jeopardizes Pacific cod
conservation efforts in northern Puget Sound by reopening a commercial bottom trawl
Superior Court Judge Steven Mura yesterday reopened bottom trawling below
40 fathoms in the area despite WDFW regulations that closed deep water trawling last
August to protect low Pacific cod stocks. The decision places a temporary stay on
WDFW's regulation closing the fishery.
Commercial trawlers, who brought the case to court, want to harvest flatfish
species and dogfish. WDFW biologists said unacceptable numbers of Pacific cod will
be caught incidentally in the fishery.
Studies have shown the Pacific cod population in northern Puget Sound and
southern Strait of Georgia is in poor condition. The population is at critical or near
extinction levels in southern Puget Sound.
"Many of Washington's fish stocks, including Pacific cod, are in poor condition.
Conservation has to be our highest priority. This court decision is not good for fish and,
in the long run, it is going to be devastating for fishers," said Bruce Crawford, who
directs WDFW's Fish Management Program.
"The decision places no conservation restrictions at all on any trawl fishing at
depths deeper than 40 fathoms," Crawford said.
He said he also was concerned the decision would set a precedent for regional
courts to start managing fisheries. WDFW will ask the Washington Fish and Wildlife
Commission to impose more restrictive seasons on the northern Puget Sound trawl
fishery at the commission's Jan. 23-24 meeting in La Conner.
"We don't know if we can conserve our fish stocks if judges are going to set
aside our conservation efforts," Crawford said.
The north Puget Sound trawl fishery opened last January with a 60,000-pound
Pacific cod quota. It was closed in August after an estimated 55,000 pounds of cod had
been landed or killed. The remainder of the quota was allocated to shallow water
Trawlers caught from one million to three million pounds of Pacific cod in
northern Puget Sound each year from 1970 through 1988, although harvests have been
in a long decline since the mid-1970's. Only 30,000 pounds were harvested in 1994.
Catches of Pacific cod by sport fishers has shown a similar long-term decline
since the 1970's.
WDFW biologists attribute the steep declines to overfishing, warmer water in
Puget Sound and increased predation by marine mammals.