OLYMPIA – Fishing for all finfish – except salmon – will close in Hood Canal at 11:59 p.m. today (Oct. 21) until further notice, due to adverse environmental conditions that have brought a number of deepwater species to the top of the water column, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) announced today.
The closure, designed to protect these vulnerable stocks, affects recreational and commercial fishing for rockfish, surf perch, herring, smelt, flatfish, hake and other forage fish and bottomfish. It does not, however, affect ongoing fisheries for salmon and crab.
Morris Barker, WDFW marine resource manager, said the fishing closure is designed to protect fish populations already stressed by extremely low dissolved oxygen levels in Hood Canal, a 60-mile-long fjord with poor water circulation.
"These fish are coping with some extreme conditions," Barker said. "We need to give them some breathing room until these conditions ease up."
Barker noted that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NFMS) considered a 1999 petition to list several Hood Canal bottomfish stocks for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. While NMFS ultimately denied the petition, it did recognize the depressed status of the stocks.
"So now these stocks are not only depressed, they are also stressed by adverse water quality which makes them especially vulnerable to harvest," Barker said.
Barker said low dissolved oxygen levels are fairly common in Hood Canal, particularly after a warm, dry summer. In recent weeks, however, monitoring sites maintained by state Department of Ecology have recorded oxygen levels low enough to be lethal for some fish and marine invertebrates.
That has apparently prompted many bottom species to move toward the surface, where dissolved oxygen levels are generally higher, Barker said.
In addition, test dives conducted last week by WDFW found dead and dying sea cucumbers at various points along the Canal and many shrimp infested with parasitic bryozoan – a condition likely related to the low oxygen levels in the water.
"A good storm would really help mix things up," Barker said. "There's not much we can do about the environmental conditions, but we do plan to keep the fishery closed until we see some sign of improvement in water quality that prompts the fish to redistribute themselves in a more normal pattern."
In the past two weeks, WDFW has overseen research dives and test fisheries to assess the marine conditions on Hood Canal, and will continue to watch water quality tests routinely conducted by Ecology, Barker said.