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
- 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
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.
- 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.
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.