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Sound Science - Marine Reserves

The Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) acknowledges that it lacks sufficient stock assessment data for groundfish (rockfish, ling cod, cabezon, etc.) – in most Puget Sound marine areas we Rockfishknow alarmingly little about their historical and present abundance and so cannot effectively evaluate the impact of our fisheries on them.  Because some are long-lived (over 100 years), reproduce sporadically, and cannot be released alive after being caught, Puget Sound rockfish are particularly susceptible to overfishing.  With population abundances so low, three Puget Sound rockfish species have recently been listed as Threatened or Endangered under the Endangered Species Act – and several other species are being considered for protection.  Still, thousands of Puget Sound rockfish are caught and killed each year as targeted game and bycatch.

The precautionary principle of conservation ecology, adopted by WDFW in its "Draft Puget Sound Rockfish Conservation Plan" and Puget Sound Groundfish Management Plan, states that in the absence of adequate data, fisheries managers should err on the side of caution and restrict commercial and recreational fishing pressure. "The absence of adequate scientific information should not be used as a reason for postponing or failing to take conservation and management measures" (PSGMP).

Ling CodA large body of recent scientific research has demonstrated that Marine Reserves (MRs) and Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), underwater parks where fishing is prohibited or limited, are extremely effective at recovering depressed populations of fish – especially non-migratory ones like rockfish.  MR and MPA networks to protect rockfish have been established in California, Oregon, and British Columbia.  Given a respite from fishing pressure, rockfish can flourish and in time once again support a sustainable fishery.  In 1998, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, whose role it is to establish goals and policies for WDFW, identified the need for marine protected areas and directed WDFW to use MPAs to protect and manage marine resources in Puget Sound – this policy has yet to be carried out by WDFW.


Other fish and invertebrate species have also been shown to thrive in MRs, as explained in this publication authored by Dr. Jane Lubchenco – now President Obama’s administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  Further, despite skeptics’ expectations, local community economies are often unimpacted or improved with the addition of MRs.  Wild Fish Conservancy is extremely supportive of a science-based network of MRs in Puget Sound – this tool is fundamental to the recovery of Puget Sound.

The need for a science-based MR network in Puget Sound  – A Summary:Anemone

  1. Many Puget Sound groundfish stocks have crashed and are not recovering.  Historically, they made up a significant proportion of Puget Sound's fish biomass - they were fundamental to the ecological integrity of Puget Sound, and are fundamental to its recovery.
  2. Much of the decline is attributed to overfishing.
  3. Currently, none of Puget Sound Partnership's indicators adequately capture the health or condition of this group of fishes.
  4. The science is clear that a network of marine reserves (MRs) or marine protected areas (MPAs), where fishing is reduced or prohibited, is an extremely effective and cost-efficient tool to recover depressed groundfish populations. Because the tool is ecosystem-based, benefits extend to invertebrates, marine mammals, and birds as well.  Further, trophy fisheries often establish along the margins of MRs and MPAs.
  5. All our neighboring states and provinces have in place functioning MR and MPA networks.  Effectively, Puget Sound has none.
  6. Multiple policy documents already identify the use of MRs and MPAs in Puget Sound to this end.  These include WDFW and Fish and Wildlife Commission policy, as well as the Puget Sound Partnership Action Agenda among others.
  7. WFC is part of a growing group of conservation organizations urging the responsible State, Federal, and Tribal agencies to act on and implement these policies.


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