News

Aquatic reserve proposed off North Whidbey Island

A proposal to create an "aquatic reserve" around Smith and Minor islands west of Oak Harbor will be aired at Oak Harbor High School April 29 at 6:30 p.m.

The state Department of Natural Resources is considering making the move at the request of the non-profit People for Puget Sound.

The tiny islands are located off West Beach, out from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. According to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, Smith Island once was home to a lighthouse built in 1858, and today it is home to a weather station owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "Miner" island, as Wikipedia spells it, is smaller.

The islands, connected by a low spit that covers at high tide, are usually closed to the public.

A DNR news release states the April 29 meeting in Oak Harbor is intended to provide information and gather ideas from the community regarding the proposal. The meeting will run until 8:30 p.m.

DNR personnel will discuss the agency's Aquatic Reserve Program and the proposal for the state-owned tidelands around Smith and Minor islands. Officials will offer ideas about the location of the proposed reserve, provide information about wildlife in the area, and share management ideas.

The DNR states that by making the area a reserve, it can work with the community to develop a management plan that specifies uses within the reserve, "and may limit the activities that can take place on the site."

People for Puget Sound started the reserve process last year, according to the DNR release, pointing out that the shorelines and deep waters surrounding Smith and Minor islands are important areas for a wide variety seabirds as well as salmon, halibut and other fish.

Recreational and commercial fishing is managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and treaty tribes, and would not be affected by management of the reserve, the DNR states.

The proposal covers 25,000 acres that extend from the shores of Joseph Whidbey State Park and Fort Ebey State Park. Supporters include the SeaDoc Society, Wildfish Conservancy and the Nature Conservancy.

Without the reserve designation, the DNR could consider other uses for the area. Though it does not specify any such uses, the news release notes that state-owned aquatic lands are used in a number of ways, including marinas, net pens for fish rearing and energy projects.

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