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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

May 1, 2011 at 10:00 AM

New plan hopes to boost decimated Puget Sound rockfish populations

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A little less than a year ago, the federal government widened fishing restrictions to include Puget Sound (Marine Catch Areas 6 to 13) as off-limits for rockfish to protect three species of rockfish now listed on the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Protections for bocaccio, yelloweye and canary rockfish, a slow-growing rockfish that can outlive many humans were pushed into oblivion due to overfishing in the 1970s and 1980s.

State Fish and Wildlife ended commercial fishing, and most sport fishing for rockfish many moons ago, but the three species ability to reproduce was so weak that populations haven’t taken an upswing.

This past week, state Fish and Wildlife released a new management plan designed to protect and restore rockfish populations in Puget Sound.

The “Puget Sound Rockfish Conservation Plan” includes policies, strategies and actions designed to help restore and maintain abundance, distribution, diversity and long-term productivity of rockfish populations in Puget Sound.

Developed with input from an ad hoc advisory group, the new plan includes suggestions made during an extensive public review process in 2009-10 that included 1,100 public comments received by the department.

Key provisions of the new plan include:

Managing fisheries in Puget Sound to ensure the health and productivity of all rockfish species.

Utilizing science-based marine conservation areas that, with other actions, aid in natural production of rockfish populations and their habitats.

Working with the Northwest Straits Commission, tribes, fishermen and others to improve the system for reporting and removing lost fishing gear from Puget Sound.

Promoting the restoration of depleted stocks to sustainable levels through the appropriate use of hatchery programs and artificial habitats.

Since 2004, anglers had to release any canary or yelloweye rockfish they hooked in Puget Sound.

Last year, state Fish and Wildlife also adopted regulations restricting the depth anglers can fish for bottomfish and prohibiting the retention of rockfish in most areas of the Sound.

Mortality of released rockfish is very high especially those caught at depths deeper than 120 feet. Rockfish have a gas filled swim bladder, which allows the fish to maintain buoyancy in the water.

Unlike salmon, rockfish have a closed bladder, which means they cannot rapidly adjust the volume of gas in the bladder. When they are brought up to the surface the gas expands, and can cause internal damage protrusion of the stomach from the mouth and may cause damage to the eyes, which then leads to a high number of released to die.

The plan is available online at state Fish and Wildlife website.

(Photo taken by Mike Seigel, Seattle Times staff photgrapher)

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