Meeting targets forgotten fish

Published on Thu, Feb 13, 2003 by Meg Olson

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Meeting targets forgotten fish

By Meg Olson

Members of the county’s marine resources committee are coming to Blaine to teach the community about the county’s bottomfish and glean a little local knowledge at the same time.

“We haven’t had a lot of focus on bottomfish, it’s mostly been on salmon and forage fish like herring,” said resource planner Erika Stroebel. “There is concern the population of bottomfish in Puget Sound is declining.”

At the Blaine Marina harbor office from 7-9 p.m. on February 19 the committee will hold one of three county meetings on the health of the county’s bottomfish, which includes various rockfish species, flat fish like sole and flounder, and ling cod.

Marine resources committee chair Michelle Evans said they hoped to give the public an appreciation of these fish that most members of the public rarely think about, with salmon stealing the limelight. “They’re an important resource to the county,” she said. “There is commercial interest in them and they’re part of the ecosystem. If you take out one part it affects the other parts.”

Stroebel said they were also looking for local knowledge of how Whatcom County bottomfish populations have fared. “We don’t have specific information for the county right now,” she said. Recreational and commercial fishers, boaters and divers could all have knowledge that would help the committee get a clearer picture of how local bottomfish populations are doing. “We’d like to know if in the past 10 or 20 years people have stopped catching one species and have started catching another,” Evans said.

Ultimately the committee will use the information they gather to recommend strategies for preserving bottomish stocks and habitat to the state and tribal agencies that manage them. Some options to consider might include seasonal closures for certain species, different fishing techniques or establishing marine reserve areas. The last option could be especially effective, Stroebel said, given that bottomfish often stay in one spot and may live longer than humans. Setting aside an area where breeding adults would be undisturbed could protect stocks in the whole county. It could also be a tourist attraction, like the Edmonds Underwater Park, where divers flock to see massive rockfish. “Edmonds is an example of how popular these areas can be,” she said.