OLYMPIA–The state's top fisheries official said today he is optimistic that scientifically-based conservation plans can be developed for seven groundfish marine species so they will be restored and not need protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.
"We have already taken many actions to rebuild these species, including restricting harvest and creating sanctuaries where no fishing is allowed," said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Jeff Koenings. "These and other actions will serve as part of detailed, scientific conservation plans that hopefully will allow us to avoid ESA listings."
Koenings said that WDFW expects the conservation plans to be delivered to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) this fall.
NMFS today announced it would conduct a year-long biological review of the Puget Sound populations of Pacific herring, Pacific cod, Pacific hake, walleye pollock and brown, copper and quillback rockfish as a first step to determine if they should be listed under the act.
The seven species have been declining in Puget Sound for at least a decade for several reasons, including harvest and predation by marine mammals and other fish species. Warmer water conditions in Puget Sound also are believed responsible for the species' decline.
But Koenings said he is confident that by working closely with NMFS, other state natural resource managers and western Washington treaty tribes that the stocks can be rebuilt without being listed under the act.
If the state submits conservation plans that are approved by NMFS, listings could be avoided.
In recent years, WDFW, working with other resource agencies, has taken action to protect these fragile stocks, including closing or reducing fish harvests and working with NMFS to identify marine mammal predation problems and collaborate on solutions where seals, sea lions and other animals are impeding recovery of the marine species.
The department also is researching and developing a system of marine sanctuaries– refuges where no fishing is allowed– for some depressed species. Sanctuary areas have already been established in Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands. A more extensive sanctuary system may be needed for conservation in the future.
WDFW management and recovery activities are outlined in the Puget Sound Groundfish Management Plan and the Forage Fish Management Plan which were adopted last year by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, the nine-member citizen panel which oversees WDFW policy. The plans detail conservation and use plans for each species group.
Those plans, scheduled to be completed this fall, will form the basis of WDFW's response to the proposed federal listing petition, according to Koenings.