Anglers irked at lingcod plan

A draft Puget Sound rockfish conservation plan put together by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has attracted enough attention from sport fishermen and other user groups that the agency has extended the public comment period and added public meetings to promote dialogue on the issue.

And that’s probably a good thing, since the plan could end up, somewhere down the line, having a significant impact on Puget Sound lingcod — and to a lesser degree, halibut and salmon — fishermen. Recreational fishing groups are already involved with the issue, but the more casual saltwater fisherman has apparently yet to become fully aware of what’s coming down the pike.

The feds will almost certainly, sometime this spring, declare three rockfish species in Puget Sound — yelloweye, canary, and bocaccio — as either threatened or endangered, and so the state is required to respond.

The first step is to cut the current one-rockfish limit to none. That proposed rule change is included in a package of statewide fishing regulations for 2010-12 due to be adopted at the state Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting Dec. 4-5 in Olympia. The package is available on the state’s Web site at wdfw.wa.gov/fish/regs/rule_proposals. Other steps will stop fishing for bottom species in water deeper than 120 feet in Puget Sound and some of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and establish more Marine Protected Areas where bottomfishing is prohibited, or fully or partially restricted. There are currently 18 MPAs in Washington marine waters, according to state groundfish manager Greg Bargmann in Olympia.

The full draft Puget Sound Rockfish Conservation Plan is available at wdfw.wa.gov/fish/management/rockfish. For a copy of the plan on CD or in print, call 360-902-2844. The nearest public meeting will occur Dec. 3, 7-9 p.m. in Angst Hall at Skagit Valley College, 2405 East College Way, Mount Vernon. You can also submit comments via e-mail to SEPAdesk2@dfw.wa.gov, or by mail to WDFW SEPA Desk, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia 98501. Comments will be taken until Jan. 4, 2010.

Obviously, lingcod anglers will be restricted to shallower ling habitat, and halibut fishermen could also be impacted, at least to a degree.

“We don’t want to unduly restrict salmon fishermen,” Bargmann said, “but they take over 300 canary rockfish annually in Puget Sound, for instance, and we’re looking for ways to minimize the catch, not only of the three target species but of others, such as quillbacks.”

Sport fishermen wonder why they’re always the first ones dumped on when conservation requirements pop up.

Gary Krein, charter owner and fishing activist said, “Even if we (sport fishermen) never went on the water again, other factors would continue to account for 80 percent of rockfish mortality. Under the one-rockfish limit, plus the fish taken incidentally to salmon fishing, we have been responsible for about 20 percent of the mortality, and the state doesn’t seem to be seriously looking, for instance, at derelict nets — the largest harvesters of rockfish in Puget Sound — or seals and sea lions, and other factors.”

Krein said it seems a little Draconian to go so seriously after sport fishermen when they’re nowhere close to being the major bad guys. And there’s always the worry that, as is often the case with state-imposed regulation, more restrictions will be added to the package in the future.

Another issue

In the same proposed 2010-12 sportfishing rules package is another controversial issue. The fishing tackle industry is actively opposing a regulation change to ban lead fishing sinkers and jigs in certain lakes in the state with populations of common loons, said to be vulnerable to ingested lead from lost fishing tackle. The common loon is a “sensitive species” in Washington, with serious questions as to its population status.

The industry argues that research has been inadequate, that the decision has not been scientifically supported, and that substitute fishing weight materials are neither as commonly available nor as reasonably priced as the state would like to have the fishing public believe.

Most of the lakes affected would be in Eastern Washington. The only ones on the westside would be Calligan and Hancock in King County, and Hozomeen in Whatcom County.

Third brouhaha

And since this seems to be issue day, might as well congratulate the Washington Waterfowl Association and its Northwest Chapter president Rone Brewer for filing a legal challenge to the newly promulgated no-shooting ordinance at Deer Lagoon on Whidbey Island. The WWA works hard to protect the rights of northwest Washington waterfowl hunters and a lot of associated outdoor sportsmen.

Winter blackmouth

When the wind has died enough to allow boats on the water, the current winter blackmouth season continues to be one of the better ones in recent years. Possession Bar is holding a lot of fish and bait, on both sides, and the morning bite this weekend seems particularly promising for the west side of the bar. Fish are going from just legal to 8 or 9 pounds, according to charter skipper Gary Krein in Everett, and are being taken right on bottom (crucial) in 120 to 140 feet of water.

Krein likes the Kingfish Lite spoon in white or green/white, behind a flasher.

Farther north, Elger Bay is still productive although open to south winds, along with the Baby Island area and Camano Head. State creel checks at the Port of Everett ramp on Sunday, one of the better-weather days recently, showed 22 anglers with 10 blackmouth – a pretty good average.

Steelhead

The Cascade is showing a few early winter fish, and a couple were reported caught over the weekend at Douglas Bar on the Snohomish. Historically, the Reiter Pond folks on the skykomish have seen the first winter steelhead at the trap by Dec. 1, but the southwest Washington numbers – sometimes early indicators of the direction of the season – aren’t all that great so far. On the Kalama, through Nov. 18, four winter steelhead had returned to the Kalama Falls Hatchery, compared to nearly 500 fish at this point last year. Same deal on the Lewis, where the first 15 winter fish had returned to the traps as of Nov. 18, compared to 52 by that time last year.

Still pretty fair steelheading on the Methow and Okanogan, although water temps are falling. Standard rig is a float-and-jig, in some variation of red and black.

Good clamming

Razor clam diggers are having a fine fall/winter season, despite wind and heavy surf much of the time. State biologist Dan Ayres in the agency’s Montesano office said the last dig, Nov. 14-17, pulled almost 19,000 diggers and they averaged 13.3 clams per person.

Data collected during the opening showed larger clams, 4.5 to 4.9 inches, on beaches north of Grays harbor.

The next dig runs as follows: Dec. 2, minus 1.2 feet at 6:32 p.m., on Long Beach and Twin Harbors beaches; Dec. 3, minus 1.4 feet at 7:18 p.m., on Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks beaches; Dec. 4, minus 1.3 feet at 8:04 p.m., on Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks and Ikalaloch beaches; and Dec. 5, minus 0.9 feet at 8:51 p.m., on Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks and Kalaloch beaches.

Musky stats

Perry Peterson of the NW Tiger Pac chapter, Muskies, Inc, said club Angler of the Year for 2007 and probably again for 2009, Mike Floyd, caught and released 30-plus tiger muskies again this season.

Chums

Not a great year for chums, but some very nice fish available in the Skykomish, according to guide and Arlington resident Sam Ingram, averaging 12 to 15 pounds and still bright. This should be a good weekend on the Sky, with a positive weather forecast and cool temperatures, Ingram said, and a chance to get out and hit a chum, or a coho, or maybe an early steelhead.

“It’s not a sustained fishery, like the last two or three years,” Ingram said, “but by covering some water you should be able to find a small pod or two.”

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