State opts to curtail recreational, commercial fishing for smelt in Puget Sound

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 Friday.

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 are expected to 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 Sound-wide commercial catch and catch rates indicate relatively high harvest over the last several years.

But 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.