Three beaches may close to fishing

Fans of salmon fishing likely will lose some ground in Island County this month.

A proposal by the Washington State Fish & Wildlife Commission to close three Whidbey Island beaches to all non-tribal commercial and recreational fish harvesting is slated for final approval on March 25.

The controversial WDFW measure would create Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) around Admiralty Head and the Keystone ferry terminal as well as create a crabbing-only area around Scatchet Head on South Whidbey. Other areas affected will be Rosario Head in Skagit County and Fox Island near Gig Harbor.

The intention of the protected areas is to protect bottomfish such as lingcod and rockfish whose populations have declined precipitously over the last 25 years, many believe due to overfishing.

All five closures would apply to non-tribal fishing pending a co-management agreement with Washington treaty tribes.

Gary Wood, executive director of Island County Marine Resources Committee, said the MRC is giving conditional support to the proposals. The MRC has been holding public meetings twice monthly to receive input and discuss the WDFW regulations.

“The end result is we’re backing two of them,” Wood said. The MRC, he said, is supporting the Keystone proposal as written and rejecting the Scatchet Head closure as “lacking in scientific basis.”

“The only question we have on the Admiralty Head one is the exact boundaries,” Wood said. “There’s some confusion. They’ve shown two different maps with two different (MPA) sizes.”

Otherwise, Wood said, the MRC has no objections “as long as they permit salmon fishing.”

For the last four months, the WDFW has been hearing public comment on the proposals. According to Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People for Puget Sound, WDFW has received criticism for its lack of engagement with effected local communities.

“The department could have done better public education and outreach, and I’m sure they will for future proposals,” Fletcher said. She added, however, that “they (WDFW) are taking an important step forward in establishing a system of marine protected areas that will give our bottomfish some safe havens where they can grow and make more bottomfish.”

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