Bottom fishing ban may start today

The fish and some bottom-dwellers in the Hood Canal are in distress and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife is trying to do something about it. The Fish and Wildlife Department will meet in Edmonds today to decide if a fishing ban should be put into effect on the south end of the Hood Canal. The fishing ban would affect recreational and commercial fishing for bottom fish, smelt, herring, anchovy, squid, octopus and sea cucumbers, said Morris Barker, state marine resource manager for the Fish and Wildlife Department. The ban would be in effect from the Hood Canal Bridge south and would not affect salmon, shellfish, shrimp or crabs.

The wildlife are in distress because of the low dissolved oxygen levels in the canal. The oxygen levels are low because of an unusually large amount of plankton growing on the waterway, coupled with higher-than-normal nitrogen levels. When the plankton dies, it sinks to the bottom of the canal and uses oxygen.

The dissolved oxygen levels are lower than they have ever been in the 51 years they have been tracked and recorded.

In a normal year, the Hood Canal, which is actually an estuary, has lower oxygen levels in the fall and winter. Open ocean waters flow into the estuary during the summer and flush it out. For the last two years, that has not happened.

The Hood Canal has been under a series of 180-day emergency fishing bans, Barker said.

If the ban is put into effect today, it will be permanent until conditions improve, Barker said.

The low dissolved oxygen problem has scientists and laymen alike stumped. It also is causing some fish who generally live in deeper waters to move to shallower waters.

“It doesn’t seem to be bothering crab, salmon or inter-tidal crabs or oysters,” Barker said.

If the ban goes into effect, it shouldn’t hit the commercial industry in the wallet too hard.

“It doesn’t affect anyone who’s commercial fishing, except for sea cucumbers and some of the smelt and serf perch,” Barker said. “Landings from the areas that will be closed are a small amount economically speaking. They may be displacing a couple of fishermen.”

He estimates the commercial fishermen won’t take a hit any harder than about $1,500.

“There are other areas that are open and other opportunities,” Barker said.

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