New crab policy makes some crabby

"I went to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission Meeting in Anacortes last weekend. The commissioners, a group of nine appointed members from around the state, set fish and wildlife policy, including the abundance of regulations that at times stick like a barbed fish hook in the craw of Washington's hunters and fishermen.For all you J.D. Wade fans (will the letters to the editor ever end?), J.D. was down from his Bellingham home for the meeting and spoke eloquently in favor of the proposal.For local folks, the biggest news to come from the meeting was a new policy governing Puget Sound crab.The crab fishing has been good around Whidbey Island in recent years. The population has been strong, and recreational crabbers have been able to snag their limits on most trips out. But this recent abundance has coincided with an unprecedented participation in the crab fishery by Puget Sound Indian tribes, who by law are entitled to 50 percent of all fish and shellfish. With harvest pressures at an all-time high, many people see trouble ahead.The new policy is designed to keep the crab fishery alive - or preserve, protect and perpetuate Puget Sound Dungeness crab resources and associated habitat, in the lingo of the policy itself.How that happens in practice remains to be seen, but recreational crabbers can expect more rigorous requirements for reporting the crab you take. State biologists need this information to set overall harvest limits.It was apparent at the Anacortes meeting that commercial crabbers don't really like the new policy - some appeared downright mad about it - while recreational folks were supportive. That's probably because the new policy carves out a more defined slice of the pie for the recreational fishery than it has received in the past.The bottom line for everyone, of course, is to find a way to ensure Puget Sound crabs aren't fished onto the Endangered Species list. As recreational crabber Gary Ryan said at the meeting, Conservation is paramount. We need a different management style than 100 percent harvest.Stay tuned. While the new policy is now in place, crabbing regulations are likely to continue to shift like beach sand.After a two-month hiatus, the winter salmon season reopens this Wednesday and continues through April 10, with a daily limit of one salmon. Fisheries biologists note that many spots around Puget Sound are currently flush with herring, and that's good news - herring are prime feed for winter blackmouth salmon.Two of the nicest winter spots are reportedly Double Bluff off South Whidbey and Midchannel Bank in Port Townsend. The San Juans are also supposed to be hot. And the waters around Oak Harbor are sure to yield salmon, too.By the way, steelhead fishermen are also flocking to the Skagit River, where they're catching some lunkers. A lucky fellow pulled a 19 pounder out near Sedro-Woolley last week.There's still time this weekend to get to the International Sportsmen's Exposition in Seattle, which runs through Sunday at the Stadium Exhibition Center south of the Kingdome. The show offers 500 experts and exhibits on hunting and fishing, equipment, travel, dog training, cooking and photography. Hours Saturday are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday is 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The cost is $8 adults, $5 seniors over age 60, and free for children under 12."

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