WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE
NEWS RELEASE
600 Capitol Way North, Olympia, WA 98501-1091

May 30, 1997
Contact: Jeff Weathersby, (360) 902-2256

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New commercial fishing regulations to protect sea birds in northern Puget Sound

OLYMPIA -- The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission today passed commercial fishing regulations designed to protect common murres, Rhinoceros auklets and other diving sea birds that swim along schools of salmon in northern Puget Sound.

Murres, auklets and other sea bird species such as marbled murrelets are declining. One cause may be incidental entanglement in commercial nets. The federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act requires that migratory birds be protected.

Some of the new Department of Fish and Wildlife regulations go into effect this year, while others become effective in 1998. They apply to northern Puget Sound (Marine Areas 7 and 7A) during the state's most important commercial fisheries. Those fisheries focus on Fraser River sockeye and pink salmon.

Lisa Pelly, commission chair, said the regulations passed today came in the fourth year of a five-year conservation plan developed by commercial fishers, environmental groups, fishing gear suppliers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and others. The University of Washington's Sea Grant Program supervised the research portion of the plan.

"These regulations, produced after careful, scientific study and the cooperative efforts of everyone involved, will go a long way towards protecting birds while allowing an important sector of the state's economy continue to earn a living," Pelly said.

Test fisheries over the past three years showed the gear modifications and fishing hours covered by the new regulations significantly reduced the number of sea birds caught in fishing nets.

The regulations require:

  • Creating gaps in the tops of purse seine nets by removing some cork floats so birds can escape
  • Rebuilding gill nets beginning in 1998 so that the top 20 meshes use five-inch white twine. The larger, white mesh at the top of the net will be more visible to diving birds
  • Ending the 1997 sockeye and pink gill net fisheries when department Director Bern Shanks determines that birds are abundant in the area and few salmon are present
  • Closing gill net fishing at night (by midnight) when fishers cannot see bird concentrations. The fisheries will reopen an hour and a half after sunrise.
In addition to passing the new commercial fishing regulations, the commission endorsed the department's continued studies of sea bird incidental bycatches, including catches by recreational fishers.

Bruce Crawford, who heads the Department of Fish and Wildlife's Fish Management Program, said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants the department to study the number of sea birds caught incidentally in commercial fishing nets in other areas of Puget Sound.