OLYMPIA – The waters of Hood Canal will reopen Saturday (Nov. 30) to fishing for smelt and bottomfish, ending a month-long fishing closure designed to protect fish affected by adverse marine conditions in the 60-mile-long fjord.
All recreational and commercial fisheries normally scheduled for this time of year will reopen under established rules, said Greg Bargmann, marine fish program manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
Bargmann said test dives conducted by WDFW this week revealed that deepwater species such rockfish and hake – which had risen to the surface to escape low dissolved oxygen levels in deeper water – have returned to their normal place in the water column where they are less exposed to fishing pressure.
"Our immediate concern was that fish populations could be put at risk by their proximity to the surface," Bargmann said. "Now that marine species are returning to their normal place in the water column, we feel comfortable with resuming fisheries in the canal."
Bargmann said the fishes' behavior is consistent with monitoring data provided by the Washington Department of Ecology (DOE), which shows that dissolved-oxygen levels have been improving in Hood Canal since the arrival of the first autumn rainstorms.
"There is general agreement that the long, dry summer had a lot to do with the poor oxygen levels in the canal," said Bargmann, noting that WDFW will continue to review the monitoring data provided by DOE as part of a long-term effort to assess the effects of the depressed oxygen levels.
Fisheries affected by the unprecedented closure, which began Oct. 21, included those for smelt, rockfish, surf perch, herring, flatfish, hake and other forage fish and bottomfish. Salmon fisheries were not affected, because salmon generally live higher in the water column.