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Anglers face island closures

An angler casts for salmon in the Fort Casey area, which could be closed to salmon fishing if it becomes a marine preserve. - File photo
An angler casts for salmon in the Fort Casey area, which could be closed to salmon fishing if it becomes a marine preserve.
— image credit: File photo

A proposal by the state Dept. of Fish & Wildlife to close of trio of Whidbey Island beaches to all sportfishing is receiving severe criticism from officials at Island County’s Marine Resources Committee.

If adopted, the regulations would put a complete halt to any non-Indian fishery harvest at both Fort Casey State Park and Admiralty Head. A marine preserve, which disallows all fishery harvest except crab, would also be set up at Scatchet Head.

That’s right: No more salmon fishing at all of the above locations.

According to the WDFW, the reason for the proposed creation of these Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) is two-fold, having to do with issues of habitat preservation as well as safety.

First, the three areas designated around Whidbey Island are viewed as crucial habitats for endangered rockfish populations. In the instance of Fort Casey State Park, the WDFW also cites conflicts between divers and shore-based fishers, whose heavy lures pose an underwater threat.

“These proposals in large part come from the public because the divers are familiar with what’s down there,” said WDFW rules coordinator Evan Jacoby.

“The major problem that we’ve got in Puget Sound right now is a decline in rockfish,” he said.

Jacoby said that rockfish depend on a certain type of underwater structure, and that they are typically reluctant to leave a habitat that suits them.

“The problem with rockfish is that they’re highly territorial, which makes them particularly vulnerable,” he said. “Once they’ve established themselves, they don’t tend to want to leave. All of the areas that we’ve proposed relate to waters that overlay some sort of a structure on the bottom.”

However, there are some folks who question the wisdom of these reasons and, by extension, the scope of the MPA designations.

In a letter written by Island County MRC’s executive director Gary Wood to Jacoby, Wood asks: “Why were boilerplate descriptions of each site used rather than real explanations of the desirability of these sites as MPAs?”

In an interview on Friday, Wood said that it’s not the MPAs he objects to but the overly broad manner in which they were determined and the insufficient way they were presented to the public. According to Wood, there was a lack of specificity in the literature of the proposals.

“What they did was just cut and past the same paragraph,” Wood said. “What they didn’t do is say this ‘location A’ is selected for the following reasons that make it special.”

Wood also contends that both his committee and the public at large were left out of the loop when it came to designating areas of local interest, and that this lack of dialogue has led to misunderstanding. What seems most baffling to Wood is that the county’s MRC and the WDFW are working toward the same goal of establishing protected areas, and yet the state commission has not utilized the MRC’s local knowledge and research.

“What we have here is a failure to communicate,” Wood said. “Our congressional background has us creating a network of MPAs. The Department of Fish and Wildlife seems to have left out local input, inadvertently.”

In this case, such input would have included a lack of support for the proposed closures at Scatchet Head and Fort Casey to all sportfishing. In the Dec. 5 letter to Jacoby, Wood questions whether the restrictions would accomplish the desired protection of bottomfish. He also wonders whether the “no-take” designation takes into consideration “the interests of the salmon sportfishermen?”

Wood calls these questions “valid and important stakeholder issues.”

In the interview, Wood added: “Fishermen are very strange. They can have one stretch of beach for three generations, and if you tell them now that they can’t fish, you’d better have a good reason.”

MRC member Roger Sherman pointed out in an interview Wednesday that a closure of Scatchet Head would prove especially problematic to local fishermen.

“The feedback from fishermen was that they didn’t feel that the state had done their homework on it,” he said. “That’s a favorite salmon spot for all of the fishermen.”

Sherman said that most fisherman agree that bottomfish should be protected, though he added that, in the case of Scatchet Head, “there’s not that many bottomfish there.”

Kevin Petersen, a 13-year resident of Oak Harbor and avid sportfisherman, called the proposals to halt fishing at Admiralty Heat and Scatchet Head “an unrighteous call.”

“Someone has an agenda,” he said of the proposed regulations. “This is just political correctness. I realize they’re trying to manage a resource, but once you take something away, how often do you get it back?”

Petersen added that he’s been fishing around Whidbey for a years, and that he sees more and more restrictions every year. In particular, he criticized the fact that the restrictions would not apply to Indian fishery harvest.

“Are they supercitizens or what?” Peterson asked. “What gives them the right to be able to fish? I was born here. I’m a native American.”

The MRC does agree with the proposal to establish a conservation area at Admiralty Head due to the existence of Keystone Underwater Park, which Wood calls “a dive site of regional value.”

Petersen also concurred with this assessment.

“If I was a diver,” he said, “I wouldn’t want a four-aught trouble hook dangling around me, either.”

Beyond his support of the Admiralty Head proposal, Wood indicated that the work being done by the MRC to establish marine preserves would call for a larger variety of designations to deal with differing habitat areas and situations.

“Our congressional background has us creating a network of MPAs,” he said. “What we’re working on is mapping the resources for the whole shoreline, and we eventually want five levels of zoning, everything from full use to no use.”

Wood added: “These two little postage stamps that are being proposed now, we don’t want the public to think we already have our MPAs, because the size of the area proposed is along 212 miles of shoreline. We’re trying to look at the whole resource. What we propose is a series of protected areas with different levels of protection.”

Wood said that many fishermen, who are sometimes resistant to shoreline regulations, are now in support of MPAs because they realize such areas can be “a good tool to make fisheries healthier.”

And it is the fishermen to whom Wood wants the WDFW to listen. “The department realizes that they need to have more local involvement,” he said. “The locals are used to being really informed now. The local MRCs have kept them involved all along the way.”

Wood added that it’s equally important that the department gets local tribes involved, too. “Instead of talking to the tribes and getting their cooperation, they decided to make this not apply to the tribes,” he said of recent MPA proposals. “The tribes would rather negotiate and have an MPA that applies to them, too.”

Wood said that local MRC officials recently had a productive meeting with the WDFW commission.

“As things progress, we’ll find ourselves cooperating on more and more projects and basically learning from each other,” he said. MPAs. The Department of Fish and Wildlife seems to have left out local input, inadvertently.”

In this case, such input would have included a lack of support for the proposed closures at Scatchet Head and Fort Casey to all sportfishing. In the Dec. 5 letter to Jacoby, Wood questions whether the restrictions would accomplish the desired protection of bottomfish. He also wonders whether the “no-take” designation takes into consideration “the interests of the salmon sportfishermen?”

Wood calls these questions “valid and important stakeholder issues.”

In the interview, Wood added: “Fishermen are very strange. They can have one stretch of beach for three generations, and if you tell them now that they can’t fish, you’d better have a good reason.”

MRC member Roger Sherman pointed out in an interview Wednesday that a closure of Scatchet Head would prove especially problematic to local fishermen.

“The feedback from fishermen was that they didn’t feel that the state had done their homework on it,” he said. “That’s a favorite salmon spot for all of the fishermen.”

Sherman said that most fisherman agree that bottomfish should be protected, though he added that, in the case of Scatchet Head, “there’s not that many bottomfish there.”

Kevin Petersen, a 13-year resident of Oak Harbor and avid sportfisherman, called the proposals to halt fishing at Admiralty Heat and Scatchet Head “an unrighteous call.”

“Someone has an agenda,” he said of the proposed regulations. “This is just political correctness. I realize they’re trying to manage a resource, but once you take something away, how often do you get it back?”

Petersen added that he’s been fishing around Whidbey for a years, and that he sees more and more restrictions every year. In particular, he criticized the fact that the restrictions would not apply to Indian fishery harvest.

“Are they supercitizens or what?” Peterson asked. “What gives them the right to be able to fish? I was born here. I’m a native American.”

The MRC does agree with the proposal to establish a conservation area at Admiralty Head due to the existence of Keystone Underwater Park, which Wood calls “a dive site of regional value.”

Petersen also concurred with this assessment.

“If I was a diver,” he said, “I wouldn’t want a four-aught trouble hook dangling around me, either.”

Beyond his support of the Admiralty Head proposal, Wood indicated that the work being done by the MRC to establish marine preserves would call for a larger variety of designations to deal with differing habitat areas and situations.

“Our congressional background has us creating a network of MPAs,” he said. “What we’re working on is mapping the resources for the whole shoreline, and we eventually want five levels of zoning, everything from full use to no use.”

Wood added: “These two little postage stamps that are being proposed now, we don’t want the public to think we already have our MPAs, because the size of the area proposed is along 212 miles of shoreline. We’re trying to look at the whole resource. What we propose is a series of protected areas with different levels of protection.”

Wood said that many fishermen, who are sometimes resistant to shoreline regulations, are now in support of MPAs because they realize such areas can be “a good tool to make fisheries healthier.”

And it is the fishermen to whom Wood wants the WDFW to listen. “The department realizes that they need to have more local involvement,” he said. “The locals are used to being really informed now. The local MRCs have kept them involved all along the way.”

Wood added that it’s equally important that the department gets local tribes involved, too. “Instead of talking to the tribes and getting their cooperation, they decided to make this not apply to the tribes,” he said of recent MPA proposals. “The tribes would rather negotiate and have an MPA that applies to them, too.”

Wood said that local MRC officials recently had a productive meeting with the WDFW commission.

“As things progress, we’ll find ourselves cooperating on more and more projects and basically learning from each other,” he said.

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