Commission opts to limit fishing opportunities for Puget Sound smelt

Staff reportJune 22, 2014 

The state will curtail recreational and commercial smelt fishing in Puget Sound in hopes of increasing protection for the species.

The decision was made by the state Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting June 13.

The new regulations demonstrate the agency’s conservation objective to maintain a healthy population of forage fish, which are an important food source to a variety of species in Puget Sound, Miranda Wecker, commission chairwoman, said in a news release.

“The new regulations preserve sport and commercial fishing opportunities while providing needed protection for smelt,” Wecker said in the release.

The new policy:

 • Adds a new 60,000-pound annual quota for the Puget Sound commercial smelt fishery.

 • Reduces the commercial fishery by one day each week, allowing commercial fishing from 6 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays during seasonal openings in each area.

 • Closes inactive commercial smelt fisheries, including dip bag and purse seine, which have not been in use for at least 10 years.

 • Closes nighttime recreational dip net fishing. Recreational dip net fishing will be allowed from 6 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays-Tuesday. Jig gear can continue to be used seven days per week, 24 hours per day.

The new rules will take effect in late July or early August.

Unlike salmon and other species, population abundance estimates are not available for smelt. The commission decided to act, however, because Puget Soundwide commercial catch rates indicate relatively high harvest over the last several years. The estimated commercial catch is 95,000 pounds annually, with an equal amount caught by recreational fishermen.

Popular South Sound locations to fish for smelt include Quartermaster Harbor, Gig Harbor, Lakebay, off Squaxin Island and in Budd Inlet. Recreational fishermen will use dip nets or jigs to catch smelt. mainly from October-March.

Knowing smelt are a crucial food source for many Puget Sound species, including sea birds, marine mammals and salmon, the commission chose to impose the limits.

The commission also considered two other options: one making no change and the other closing commercial fishing and limiting recreational fishing.

The commission also requested an annual review of the commercial and recreational smelt fisheries in the Sound.

SURF SMELT FACTS

NAME: Surf smelt, Hypomesus pretiosus

RANGE: Long Beach, California to Chignik Lagoon, Alaska

RELATED SPECIES: Several members of the smelt family live in Washington waters, including eulachon (Columbia River smelt), longfin smelt, whitebait smelt and night smelt.

RECOGNITION: Dark stripe down the middle of the body. Also notable for small mouth with maxillary that does not extend past the midpoint of pupil; dorsal fin begins in front of the anal fin; pelvic fins short; and small curved adipose fin. Length up to eight inches.

LOCAL DISTRIBUTION: Found throughout the nearshore marine waters of Washington, from the Columbia River to the Canadian border and into southernmost Puget Sound and Hood Canal. Genetic research suggests that surf smelt throughout Puget Sound represent a single stock.

MAJOR STOCKS: Surf smelt populations can generally be divided into summer spawners and fall-winter spawners. Spawning occurs in the Kalaloch region, Strait of Juan de Fuca, northern Saratoga Pass, Port Susan, Birch Point and Cherry Point from May-October. Spawning occurs from September-March in the Bremerton-Poulsbo area, southernmost Puget Sound and south Hood Canal. Some areas, such as the San Juan Islands and Fidalgo Bay, support year-round surf smelt spawning. LIFE HISTORY: Surf smelt are an abundant, schooling forage fish living to a maximum age of about 5 years. Many spawn at 1 year of age; the majority by 2 years of age. Adults do not die after spawning. Ssurf smelt fill much the same role as herring and other forage fish in marine food webs. They are schooling plankton feeders that are, in turn, preyed upon by a host of other species. Spawning habitat is a mixture of coarse sand and fine gravel in the upper intertidal zone.

Source: State Department of Fish and Wildlife

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