OLYMPIA - Everyone preparing for this year's recreational shrimp fishery in Puget Sound can focus on a single date: Saturday, May 7.
That's when all areas of the Sound will open for the popular fishery under new rules adopted earlier this month by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission.
This year's season is a departure from previous years, when openings for various areas were staggered from April through June, said Dave Sterritt, shellfish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
"One advantage of this approach is that it's easier for everyone to remember," Sterritt said. "Another is that it should help to distribute fishing pressure throughout the Sound, rather than concentrate it in specific areas."
Sterritt said the same-day opening was first proposed by members of WDFW's recreational shrimp advisory group, who have become increasingly concerned about the growing number of sport fishers flocking to Hood Canal and other popular shrimping areas each year.
Last year, the Hood Canal fishery drew a daily average of 1,400 boats, which caught the area's recreational shrimp quota in just four days, Sterritt said. Aerial surveys show that the number of boats participating in the fishery has increased nearly 30 percent since 2000, when shrimpers had six days to fish in the Canal, he said.
"We're also seeing a similar trend in popular shrimping areas around Port Angeles and Port Townsend," Sterritt said. "By opening all shrimping areas in Puget Sound at the same time, we're hoping to keep these seasons from shrinking any further."
While all areas of Puget Sound will open for shrimping on May 7, the Commission approved three different fishing schedules for those areas:
- Shrimp districts in Port Angeles, Discovery Bay and Port Townsend, as well as marine areas 8, 9, 10 and 11, will open from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Wednesdays until quotas for those areas are reached.
- Hood Canal (Marine Area 12) will open from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Wednesdays until the quota is reached.
- Marine areas 4 (east of the Bonilla Line), 5, 6, 7 and 13 will be open daily with standard fishing hours (pots can be checked only from one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset).
In addition, the Commission established several new rules for the month of May, when most fishing for spot shrimp takes place.
To help reduce handling of undersized spot shrimp, the Commission established a standard minimum mesh size of 7/8 inches for all pots fished during May anywhere in Puget Sound. At the same time, it also removed the minimum size limit for spot shrimp and will allow fishers to remove their heads while in the field until June 1.
"The advantage of these new rules is that fishers won't have to sort their catch during the main spot shrimp fishery in May," Sterritt said. "Spot shrimp that are too small will simply pass through the mesh."
However, beginning June 1 when fishing begins in earnest for coonstripe, pink and other species of shrimp, the following rules apply:
- The mesh size on shrimp pots must be a minimum of one-half inch.
- Fishing will be open on a daily basis in areas with a remaining spot-shrimp quota and in designated non-spot areas. (Pots can be checked only from one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset).
- A daily limit of 10 pounds, including heads and tails, will be in effect for all shrimp species combined. As part of that limit, fishers may take a maximum of 80 spot shrimp.
- Spot shrimp must have a carapace length of at least 13/16 inch (30mm) to retain. All sub-legal spot shrimp must be returned to the water unharmed.
- Starting June 1, fishers are required to retain heads of spot shrimp while in the field.
All new rules approved by the Commission for the 2005 recreational sport fishery will be included in WDFW's 2005-06 Fishing in Washington rule pamphlet, which will be available by May 1.