OLYMPIA - The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission will consider proposed changes to recreational and commercial smelt fishing regulations in Puget Sound during a public meeting June 13-14 in Olympia.
The commission, which sets policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), will convene at 8:30 a.m. each day in Room 172 of the Natural Resources Building on the state capitol campus at 1111 Washington St. S.E.
An agenda for the meeting is available on the commission's website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/commission/.
Smelt serve as a valuable food source for a variety of species in Puget Sound, including sea birds, marine mammals and salmon, some of which are federally protected. Population abundance estimates are not available for smelt. However, Puget Sound-wide commercial catch and catch rates indicate relatively high harvest over the last several years, prompting WDFW to consider taking steps to increase protection for smelt.
On Friday, June 13, the commission will consider adopting new rules for commercial and recreational smelt fishing in Puget Sound. Options include:
- No change: Under current state rules, commercial fishing for smelt in Puget Sound is open from 8 a.m. Sunday to 8 a.m. Friday during seasonal openings. Recreational smelt fishing is open year-round, except in Hood Canal where it is closed. The use of dip nets is allowed from 8 a.m. Friday to 8 a.m. Wednesday. Jig gear can be used seven days per week.
- Reduce both commercial and recreational use: Commercial smelt fishing would be closed Sundays and would be allowed only from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday during seasonal openings in each area. Inactive commercial smelt fisheries, including dip bag and purse seine, which have not been in use for at least 10 years, would be closed.
Recreational smelt fishing would be closed overnight except for the use of jig gear, which could be used seven days per week, 24 hours per day. Dip nets would be allowed for recreational use from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday through Tuesday.
- Close commercial fishing, reduce recreational use: All commercial fishing for smelt in Puget Sound would be closed. Recreational smelt fishing would be closed overnight except for the use of jig gear, which could be used seven days per week, 24 hours per day. Dip nets would be allowed for recreational use from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday through Tuesday.
WDFW has sought public comment and held a meeting in Mill Creek on smelt regulations. The commission heard testimony on the proposals at its meeting in April.
In other business, state fish biologists will update the commission on progress implementing WDFW's Puget Sound rockfish conservation plan. In 2011, the commission approved a plan to ensure long-term stability of populations of rockfish in Puget Sound and provide sustainable fishing opportunities.
The commission also will hear a briefing on a planned land acquisition in Yakima County. The 2,900-acre property serves as a critical habitat connection between summer and winter range for the Yakima elk herd. The shrub-steppe parcel would be acquired through a partnership with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Cowiche Canyon Conservancy and the state Department of Ecology.