The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission extended protections for giant Pacific octopuses in Puget Sound today by prohibiting the recreational harvest of the species at seven popular scuba diving sites from Whidbey Island to Tacoma.
The commission, a nine-member citizen panel appointed by the Governor to set policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), also adopted 2013-14 hunting seasons for migratory waterfowl and approved several land acquisitions designed to conserve fish and wildlife habitat during the first day of its Aug. 2-3 meeting in Olympia.
The commission considered several options for managing the recreational harvest of giant Pacific octopuses before unanimously deciding to prohibit their harvest at Redondo Beach in Des Moines; Three Tree Point in Burien; Seacrest Park Coves 1, 2 and 3 near Alki Point in West Seattle; an area adjacent to the Les Davis Fishing Pier in Tacoma; the Alki Beach Junk Yard in West Seattle; the Days Island Wall in Tacoma; and Deception Pass north of Oak Harbor. The new rules will take effect this fall.
The commission called for a review of state rules governing the recreational harvest of octopuses in January, following the legal – but controversial – taking of an octopus at Seacrest Cove 2 in late October 2012.
Working with a 12-member citizen advisory committee that included members of the sportfishing and diving communities, WDFW developed options that ranged from making no rule changes to banning the recreational harvest of the octopuses throughout Puget Sound. The department received hundreds of comments on the management options during and after a pair of public workshops in the spring in Port Townsend and Seattle.
Craig Burley, WDFW Fish Management Program Manager, said many sportfishers preferred the status quo, while many divers favored a Puget Sound-wide ban. Burley said the octopus population in the Sound appears to be healthy and that the current recreational harvest is very small.
Several commission members said they favored some additional protections in recognition of the broad appeal of the species to recreational divers around the world, and the potential economic benefits of enhancing the reputation of Puget Sound as a premier diving location.
“Washington is an important dive location, and protection of the octopus is important both to the dive community and to the economy of the state,” said Commissioner Conrad Mahnken of Bainbridge Island. He said Washington state is the fourth most popular dive location in the U.S. and the only northern state in the top 10.
Also on Friday, the commission: