OLYMPIA – The director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) today announced plans to explore regulatory options for banning the harvest of giant Pacific octopuses off a popular Seattle beach and possibly elsewhere in Puget Sound.
WDFW Director Phil Anderson said the department will consider new rules to preserve the population of giant Pacific octopuses at Seacrest Park near Alki Point, where a 19-year-old scuba diver provoked a public outcry after legally harvesting one of the charismatic animals last week.
Under current state rules, divers can harvest one giant Pacific octopus per day in most areas of Puget Sound.
“The harvesting of this animal has resulted in a strong, negative reaction from the public and the dive community,” Anderson said. “We believe this area may merit additional restrictions to enhance the traditional uses of this popular beach.”
Anderson announced the department’s plans at the start of a two-day public meeting of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, a nine-member governing body that has final authority over most new fishing rules.
With nearly two-dozen scuba divers in attendance, Anderson outlined several possible options to preserve giant Pacific octopuses, ranging from designating Seacrest Park as a marine protected area to prohibiting hunting the animals anywhere in the state.
Anderson said WDFW will hold public meetings this winter to hear Washingtonians’ thoughts on those options.
All of the divers who spoke on the issue at the commission meeting supported new regulations prohibiting the harvest of octopuses at Seacrest Park and other popular scuba diving areas.
Scott Lundy, a member of the Washington Scuba Alliance, presented the commission with a petition signed by 5,000 divers supporting a ban on killing octopuses at Seacrest Park.
Dylan Mayer, the 19-year-old diver from Seattle who started the controversy, also told the commission he supports a ban on killing octopuses at the park.
“I didn’t know they were so beloved, or I wouldn’t have done it,” he said.
While many of the divers called for an immediate ban at Seacrest Park, Anderson said Washington law requires state agencies to follow an established public process for developing new regulations.
“If the conservation of a species or the public welfare is at stake, we can take emergency action,” he said. “But the killing of the giant Pacific octopus last week appears to be an isolated case at Seacrest Park, and the species appears to be healthy throughout Puget Sound.”
He added, however, that the department may still consider taking emergency action if another octopus is taken from the area.
In other business, the commission heard public comments on management options proposed by representatives from Washington and Oregon to restructure salmon and sturgeon fisheries on the lower Columbia River.
Since early September, the two states have been working to develop a joint plan for phasing out the use of gillnets by non-tribal fishers in the mainstem lower Columbia River by 2016, as initially proposed by Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber.
Members of a bi-state working group are scheduled to reach agreement later this month on a final plan for consideration by both states’ fish and wildlife commissions. Additional information is available on WDFW’s website at http://goo.gl/MCG5q.
On Friday (Nov. 9), the Washington commission will hold a public hearing on proposed new options for allocating the catch of spot shrimp between recreational and commercial fisheries. It will also hear public comments on proposed changes in state rules for compensating ranchers and other landowners who lose livestock to predatory carnivores.
The commission is scheduled to take action on both issues in a meeting set for Dec. 14-15. An agenda this month’s meeting is available on the commission’s website at http://goo.gl/HtqhI.