Outdoor Briefs for Wednesday, Feb. 22

Fish &Wildlife announces changes to 2017 ocean bottomfish fishery

Anglers can expect changes to recreational bottomfish fisheries when ocean marine areas re-open March 11 to fishing for species such as lingcod and rockfish.

The Washington Department of Fish &Wildlife is making the changes to help ensure rockfish catches align with harvest limits adopted by the Pacific Fishery Management Council. The council is responsible for establishing conservation measures in ocean waters three to 200 miles off the Pacific coast.

Changes in effect beginning March 11 for the 2017-18 fishing season include:

• Rockfish daily limit: Reduces the daily limit on rockfish to seven, from 10, in Marine Areas 1 (Ilwaco), 2 (Westport), 3 (La Push), and 4 (Neah Bay, west of the Bonilla-Tatoosh line).

• Canary rockfish daily limit: Anglers fishing in Marine Areas 1 and 2 can retain one canary rockfish as part of the seven rockfish daily limit.

• Bottomfish daily limit: Reduces the overall daily limit on bottomfish to nine, from 12, in Marine Areas 1 through 3 and Marine Area 4, west of the Bonilla-Tatoosh line. Rockfish count toward an angler’s overall bottomfish daily limit. Anglers will be able to retain two bottomfish, such as lingcod or cabezon, in addition to their daily limit of seven rockfish.

• Lingcod minimum size: Removes the 22-inch minimum size for lingcod in Marine Areas 1 through 3 and Marine Area 4, west of the Bonilla-Tatoosh line.

• Deepwater lingcod closure: Reduces the size of the deepwater lingcod closure in Marine Area 1 by moving the southern boundary five miles north (to 46° 28.00’ N. Lat. from 46° 33.00’ N. Lat.).

Fish &Wildlife is implementing the changes to daily catch limits to help ensure the conservation objective for black rockfish is met, said Michele Culver, intergovernmental ocean policy manager for the department.

“The black rockfish population remains healthy in Washington’s ocean waters,” Culver said. “However, we’ve seen an increasing number of anglers fishing for rockfish in recent years, which means more fish are being harvested than what we had estimated.”

Meanwhile, anglers fishing in Marine Areas 1 and 2 now will be able to retain one canary rockfish as part of the daily limit for rockfish. Retention of canary rockfish previously had been prohibited in these areas to protect the species.

“Fortunately, the population of canary rockfish has rebounded and is now sufficient to allow harvest in areas 1 and 2,” said Culver. “Anglers are still prohibited from keeping canary rockfish in Marine Areas 3 and 4, but that may change in the future.”

In all four marine areas, anglers will now be able to retain lingcod regardless of fish size. Lingcod are abundant and removing the minimum size requirement is not expected to have any effect on the species’ population, Culver said. The change also should benefit the yelloweye rockfish population, which is still rebuilding, by reducing encounters with the species while anglers are fishing for lingcod, she said.

Lastly, Culver said anglers should be aware that beginning July 1, they’ll need to have a descending device onboard their fishing vessel in all marine areas, including the coast. Descending devices are used to release rockfish back to the depth of capture and significantly improve the survivability of fish that are released. More information about these devices can be found on Fish &Wildlife’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/bottomfish/rockfish/mortality.html.

Fish &Wildlife invites public comments on 12 land conservation projects

The Washington Department of Fish &Wildlife is inviting public comments on 12 land conservation projects for potential funding that would benefit fish, wildlife and public access to the great outdoors.

Conservation projects proposed by the department range from restoring salmon habitat at the mouth of the Skagit River to expanding recreational access to grasslands in Columbia County. Descriptions of all 12 proposed projects are available at http://wdfw.wa.gov/lands/acquisitions/

The department will accept written comments through Monday, March 13.

“This is an opportunity to comment on these proposals in the early stages of our strategic thinking,” said Cynthia Wilkerson, Fish &Wildlife lands division manager.

The department currently owns or manages approximately one million acres in 33 wildlife areas and 700 public water access sites. Those properties provide fish and wildlife habitat, as well as fishing, hunting and other outdoor activities for hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians every year.

“We have a responsibility to safeguard the future of fish and wildlife, while also providing for outdoor recreation in our state,” Wilkerson said. “With suitable habitat for many species declining year after year, acquiring and managing land is one tool we have to provide these public benefits.”

Daily World staff reports