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Puget Sound Groundfish Management Plan

Category: Fish/Shellfish Research and Management - Management and Conservation

Date Published: December 1998

Number of Pages: 48

Author(s): Wayne A. Palsson, Thomas J. Northup, and Morris W. Barker

DESCRIPTION:

POLICY:

It is the policy of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission to manage Puget Sound groundfish, especially Pacific cod, in a conservative manner in order to minimize the risk of overharvest, and to ensure the long-term health of the resource.

In November, 1996, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted the Puget Sound Groundfish Policy to assure the integrity of the ecosystem and habitat upon which groundfish resources depend. Many stocks of Puget Sound groundfish are in below-average, depressed or critical stock condition, and this condition has resulted in low catches and the reduction or discontinuation of once popular fisheries. It is the intent of the Commission that under conditions of low stock abundance or insufficient information to assess stocks, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) should elevate the level of conservation in groundfish management. A precautionary approach to groundfish management shall be utilized in order to minimize the risk of overharvest and to fulfill the agency mandate to "preserve, protect, perpetuate and manage foodfish" as it applies to groundfish in Puget Sound.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:

Groundfish resources in Puget Sound including bottomfish, Pacific halibut, and non-classified marine fishes are some of the principal clients of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Recent studies have shown that the majority of key groundfish stocks in Puget Sound are in below average abundance. Some of the species that once dominated the catches of recreational and commercial fisheries are now at depressed or critical abundances, resulting in historic low catches and reduced fisheries. A number of natural and human-induced factors may be responsible for the poor condition of groundfish.

In November, 1996, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted the Puget Sound Groundfish Policy to reverse the poor conditions of groundfish and to assure the integrity of the ecosystem and habitat upon which groundfish resources depend. The adopted policy states:

"It is the policy of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission to manage Puget Sound groundfish, especially Pacific cod, in a conservative manner in order to minimize the risk of overharvest, and to ensure the long-term health of the resource."

The proposed Puget Sound Groundfish Management Plan (PSGMP) implements this Commission policy. This is a precautionary approach to groundfish management. It is the intent of the Commission that under conditions of low stock abundance or insufficient information to assess stocks, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) should elevate the level of conservation in groundfish management. A precautionary approach to groundfish management shall be utilized in order to minimize the risk of overharvest (overfishing) and to fulfill the agency mandate to "preserve, protect, perpetuate and manage foodfish" as it applies to groundfish in Puget Sound.

By implementing the proposed PSGMP, a process will be established with the goal of maintaining healthy groundfish populations in Puget Sound. This means that groundfish populations will be managed as a diverse and sustainable resource in their ecosystem. Fully meeting this goal will require regular monitoring, stock assessments, establishing a Conservation Plan for each key groundfish species, and managing harvesting and other activities under the provisions of a Use Plan established for each fishery or activity.

Regular fishery and population monitoring will provide critical information needed to assess the status and trend of groundfish stocks. The stock assessments will establish biological reference points to establish stock condition. The stock assessment will also result in an evaluation of the impact of fisheries, bycatch or other activities. The information gathered from the stock assessment will be incorporated into a Conservation Plan. The Conservation Plan will include measures to assure that the long-term condition of the stock does not fall below a sustainable level for reproduction, ecosystem function, or successful fisheries. The Conservation Plan will include an assessment of whether the stock condition and data quality meet reference point criteria for allowing fisheries. Using the precautionary approach, allowable fisheries will be scaled to the level of information quality and stock condition, assure that overfishing does not occur, and that the population is healthy within natural constraints. The Conservation Plan will also provide for alternative uses of groundfish such as fish watching and scientific collection, meet the mandates of other WDFW policies, and protect critical ecosystem functions.

Use Plans will integrate the results and information from the Conservation Plan for each species into operational plans to conduct fisheries and other directed activities for groundfish. When harvestable groundfish resources are identified, the Use Plans will assure Washington interests receive consideration to utilize the resource. This will be accomplished, in part, by designating certain species, areas, and times for recreational and commercial use to assure orderly fisheries and prevent overfishing. In developing these Use Plans, the effects and interactions of bycatch, competitive fisheries, fishing gear disturbance, transboundary fisheries, and ecosystem functions will be considered.

In implementing the PSGMP, WDFW will affirm its commitment to informing the public regarding the status and use of groundfish in Puget Sound. WDFW will provide opportunity for the public to comment and provide input into planning efforts. Since groundfish have been designated as a treaty right, Conservation and Use Plans will be developed in a cooperative management framework with Puget Sound Treaty Tribes. The result of the outreach process will be increased public confidence in Puget Sound groundfish management.