OLYMPIA – Three new Puget Sound underwater marine sanctuaries have been created and the protection designation of another marine preserve has changed by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission.
In its meeting Monday the commission approved creation of a new marine conservation area at Keystone off Whidbey Island and new marine preserves at Zee's Reef off Fox Island near Gig Harbor and at Admiralty Head off Whidbey Island.
The creation of the Zee's Reef marine preserve marks the first underwater rocky habitat south of the Tacoma Narrows to be designated for protection by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). The area will remain open for recreational salmon fly fishing only, but otherwise will be closed to fishing to protect rockfish and other marine fish species.
The marine preserve designation for Admiralty Head allows harvest of sea urchin and sea cucumber while protecting other species.
In other action, the commission approved a change in the designation for an underwater area off Sund Rock on Hood Canal from a marine protected area to a marine conservation area. The change will prohibit all fishing activity in the conservation area.
Marine sanctuaries are being created as a means of protecting rockfish and other groundfish species, which are naturally long-lived but currently have low reproduction rates. Populations of those marine fish species are dwindling in Puget Sound, due to past over-harvest. Rocky underwater habitat protected from fishing activity is believed to increase the reproduction rates of the fish by allowing them to attain greater age and size.
Following the recommendation of WDFW staff, the commission did not act on two other proposals to create marine sanctuaries at Scatchet Head off Whidbey Island and Rosario Beach in the San Juan Islands. In the case of Scatchet Head, a boundary could not be determined that would be enforceable to boaters without radar or global positioning system (GPS) devices onboard, said Morris Barker, WDFW marine resource manager. The Rosario Beach proposal was withdrawn pending further discussion between WDFW and local government, State Parks and commercial divers.