OLYMPIA - For the second year in a row, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is suspending fishing in Hood Canal for a variety of species in response to adverse water conditions throughout the 60-mile-long fjord.
Under an emergency rule issued today, recreational and commercial fisheries for all finfish - except salmon and trout - will close in Hood Canal until further notice at 12:01 a.m. Monday, Sept. 15. Fisheries for octopus and squid will also close at that time, along with those for rockfish, surf perch, herring, smelt, flatfish, hake and other forage fish and bottomfish.
Ongoing fisheries for salmon, trout and shellfish were not included in the emergency closure, because those species are less vulnerable to the oxygen-depleted water conditions recently recorded in Hood Canal, said Greg Bargmann, WDFW marine fish manager.
"These conditions are especially hard on marine fish and other species that live deep below the surface, where dissolved oxygen levels are the most depressed," Bargmann said. "Those fish are coping with some extreme conditions, and we need to give them some breathing room."
Bargmann said monitoring data received from the Washington Department of Ecology in the past week shows that dissolved-oxygen levels in many areas of Hood Canal are even lower than they were last October, when WDFW announced the first fishing closure in those waters based on environmental conditions. Like last year, Bargmann has also begun to receive reports from anglers and scuba divers of dead sealife and deepwater fish moving closer to the surface.
"One angler called to say he'd caught a rockfish in extremely shallow water," Bargmann said. "That's not a good sign, given all the other indications that the dissolved-oxygen problem has surfaced a month earlier than it did last year."
Bargmann noted that the health of Hood Canal marine fish stocks was already a concern before the low-oxygen issue entered the picture. In 1999, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NFMS) considered a petition to list several Hood Canal bottomfish stocks for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. Although NMFS ultimately denied the petition, it did recognize the depressed status of the stocks.
"Adverse water conditions are putting additional stress on stocks that are already in a depressed condition," Bargmann said. "It only makes sense to remove harvest pressure from the mix until environmental conditions improve."
In addition to the monthly data collected on water quality by the Department of Ecology, the volunteer-based Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group has also begun providing monitoring data to WDFW on a weekly basis. Bargmann said WDFW will draw on both sources of data in making future management decisions about fisheries in Hood Canal.
"We really appreciate the additional source of data on water conditions in the Canal," Bargmann said. "We'll be issuing updates on the outlook for fisheries - including the smelt fishery that usually takes place in October - in the weeks ahead."
Hood Canal's recurrent low-oxygen problems are most likely due to a variety of factors, said Dr. Jan Newton, an oceanographer for the Department of Ecology. Poor water circulation, sewage discharge and other human factors along with back-to-back dry summers are all likely contributors, she said.
"In a lot of ways, the deck was stacked for more water-quality problems in Hood Canal this year," she said. "With dissolved-oxygen levels already depressed from last year, it's not all that surprising to see the problem return this year."