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Old 02-06-2004, 11:28 PM
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Great News For Wild Steelhead

OLYMPIA - The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission today adopted new sportfishing rules for the 2004-05 season that include a two-year moratorium on retaining any wild steelhead caught in state waters.

The moratorium, adopted on a 5-3 vote, will require anglers to release any steelhead caught from April 1, 2004 to March 31, 2006 that is not marked as a hatchery fish by a missing adipose fin and a healed scar.

Drawing from a list of 463 proposed changes - 336 of them submitted by the public - the commission also adopted new handling requirements for releasing salmon and steelhead that cannot be retained, additional protection for Columbia River sturgeon and fixed starting dates for recreational crab fishing.

Commissioners also declined to take action on several proposals, including one to ban treble hooks in saltwater fisheries and another to prohibit the use of motorized vessels on the Satsop and Wynoochee Rivers.

Commissioner R.P. Van Gytenbeek of Seattle initiated the discussion about requiring the release of wild steelhead by calling for a permanent ban on wild steelhead retention. When that motion failed, the commission considered and rejected the idea of a six-year moratorium before scaling it back to two years.

"In this case, I think a half a loaf is better than no loaf at all," Van Gytenbeek said. "A lot of people in this state are concerned about the decline of our wild steelhead stocks and I think a moratorium gets us started down the right path."

Commission Chair Will Roehl of Bellingham did not share that view, noting that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is currently working on a new comprehensive plan for steelhead management, tailored to specific stocks.

"I can't support banning retention of wild steelhead on rivers where stocks are healthy and returns are strong," Roehl said. "I don't think this broad-brush action is warranted, but that appears to be the will of commission."

When releasing steelhead or salmon that cannot be retained under state law, anglers will have to follow new handling procedures approved today by the commission. Measures adopted by the commission prohibit completely removing salmon or steelhead caught in lakes or streams from the water or pulling them into a boat in Puget Sound prior to release.

To provide greater protection for Columbia River sturgeon, the commission extended the closed area below Bonneville Dam approximately two miles downstream to Marker 85 from May 1 to July 31. All sturgeon fishing - whether from a boat or from the bank - will be prohibited in the expanded closure area, where the fish tend to congregate.

In addition, the annual harvest of sturgeon for personal use was reduced from 10 fish to five statewide, and sturgeon seasons recently developed in conjunction with Oregon were adopted as permanent rules for the 2004-05 season.

Recreational crabbers, meanwhile, can expect greater certainty in the timing of their seasons in the coming year. For the first time since 2000, the commission set opening dates for each marine area rather than relying on tests to determine when the crab have finished their molt.

Improved data on molting periods provided by WDFW allowed the commission to set opening dates this year for crab fisheries in all 13 marine areas of Puget Sound and the Washington coast, Roehl said.

"We're pleased that we've reached this point," Roehl said. "Now we have the data we need to protect the resource, while allowing people to plan their vacations."

In other matters the commission:

Clarified rules prohibiting snagging, making it illegal to hook and retain a fish (other than forage fish) to the rear of its gill plate.
Adopted a three-month catch-and-release fishery for trout and other gamefish on the Cedar River in King County.
Adopted permanent regulations banning retention of canary rockfish and prohibited spearfishing for any species of rockfish.
Set new daily hours (9 .m. to 1 p.m. on days open to shrimp fishing) for designated Puget Sound shrimp districts such as Port Angeles Harbor and Discovery bay. It also extended the Port Townsend Shrimp District north of the Port Townsend ship canal to include Kilisut Harbor.
Extended the Octopus Hole Conservation Area in Hood Canal to include the adjacent tidelands.
Set new hours for harvesting clams and oysters on a number of beaches and set new bag limits and seasons for rivers and lakes throughout the state.

These and other measures adopted by the commission will appear in WDFW's 2004-05 Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet.
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