Good news for Hood Canal fishers


Associated Press
King 5 News

BREMERTON, Wash. Recent storms mean relief for sea life in Hood Canal and for people who like to catch food in the northwest Washington marine inlet.

The storms have stirred the water column, adding enough dissolved oxygen farther down that fishing could reopen next week, Morris Barker, state and marine resource manager for Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said Thursday.

The current fishing closure, which began Oct. 21 and does not include salmon, is the first time that the 60-mile-long inlet has been closed because of environmental conditions.

Wash. Dept. of Fish and Wildlife
Fishing for chum in south Puget Sound
"This year, things have definitely been out of whack," said Skip Albertson, an oceanographer with the state Department of Ecology.

Under natural conditions, summer algae blooms in Hood Canal are short-lived because of a lack of nutrients.

But increasingly, nutrients get added to the water from runoff from lawn fertilizers, failing septic systems and livestock wastes, launching blooms of plankton that eventually die. Once the plankton settle on the bottom, their decay uses up what oxygen is available, making conditions tough for the fish that live there.

"We don't know the extent to which humans are making the problem worse," said Jan Newton, an oceanographer with the Ecology Department. "People need to know that Hood Canal has unique properties that make it more sensitive than the main basin of Puget Sound."

Below 15 to 35 feet, the oxygen gradually got consumed, sending fish and shrimp closer to the surface. But many of the less-mobile species, such as starfish and sea cucumbers, died, Barker said.

"It's the worst we've heard of," he said.

Enough sea cucumbers died that that fishery won't likely reopen for several years, Barker said.

Newton said Hood Canal frequently suffers from low-oxygen conditions in the summer. This year the concentration of oxygen became severe in the southern end, growing only somewhat less severe toward the north.

"Hood Canal doesn't refresh itself with water more than once a year," said Jim Postel, an oceanographer at the University of Washington.

Those who prize the annual run of surf smelt, which is beginning to build, will have to wait until fishing restrictions are lifted.

Salmon fishing in Hood Canal will remain open through the end of the year.

The fall run of chum is expected to total 800,000 fish in the canal and 3 million in the canal and Puget Sound combined the largest since record-keeping began since 1913, according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.


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