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State might close some crabbing, fishing sites

Fans of salmon fishing likely will lose some ground in Island County this month.

A proposal by the state Fish and Wildlife Commission to close three Whidbey Island beaches to all non-tribal commercial and recreational fish harvesting is slated for final approval on March 25.

The controversial Fish and Wildlife measure would create Marine Protected Areas around Admiralty Head and the Keystone Ferry Terminal, as well as create a crabbing-only area at Scatchet Head. Other areas affected will be Rosario Head in Skagit County and Fox Island near Gig Harbor.

The areas are to protect bottomfish such as lingcod and rockfish, whose populations have declined precipitously over the last 25 years. Advocates of MPAs say the decline is due to overfishing.

All five closures would apply to non-tribal fishing pending a co-management agreement with Washington treaty tribes.

Gary Wood, executive director of the Island County Marine Resources Advisory Committee, said the MRC is giving conditional support to the proposals. The MRC has been holding public meetings twice monthly to receive input and discuss the Fish and Wildlife regulations.

"The end result is we're backing two of them," Wood said.

The MRC is supporting the Keystone proposal as written and rejecting the Scatchet Head MPA as "lacking in scientific basis," he said.

"The only question we have on the Admiralty Head one is the exact boundaries," Wood said. "There's some confusion. They've shown two different maps with two different sizes."

Woods said his organization wants to see salmon fishing continue at Scatchet Head.

For the last four months, Fish and Wildlife has been taking public comment on the proposals. According to Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People for Puget Sound, Fish and Wildlife has received criticism for its lack of engagement with affected communities.

"The department could have done better public education and outreach, and I'm sure they will for future proposals," Fletcher said.

She added, however, that Fish and Wildlife is taking an important step by establishing the MPAs.

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