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Thursday, February 02, 2006 

Puget Sound to Get Wrecked?

Local divers here in Puget Sound have long looked wistfully to our northern cousins and wished we could convince our state government that artificial reefs and wrecks are a win-win-win for everyone and the environment.

We've been faced with a State Department of Natural Resources and State Department of Wildlife that are not only not in favor, but against the idea. Mainly their view is that "any action may be the wrong action". That was a quote from a speaker (a state biologist) at our dive club recently. The speaker's view was that any noticeable increase of fish populations are just fish moving from one area to another. That rockfish need to have reefs built that include shallower and deeper areas to be able to breed. Another underlying issue, not talked about too much, has been that they feel artificial reefs and wrecks may somehow create an impact to the salmon fishery. And salmon are gold, I mean god, here.

That thinking flies in the face of reality. One of the best, and really only, example, of a large wrecks to reefs is the Possession Point ferry wreck site off the south tip of Whidbey Island in central Puget Sound. This old wooden ferry, the Kehloken was sunk in the 1983 and is pretty well deteriorated except for her ribs and machinery. Current swept, it has become a perfect breeding ground for rockfish and ling cod. While the bottom is around 80', the top ribs of the wreck are at about 40', creating the shallower and deeper habitat. For many years we've seen many large populations of juvenile rockfish there and many fat, pregnant females also. Ling cod, scarce in many areas of the sound, have re-populated, probably from another artificial reef site at Edmonds UW Park. There are now many huge (like 5-6'!) lings there enjoying the many recesses of the hull.

This debate has been on-going with divers being frustrated at nearly every turn in trying to enhance their environment in Puget Sound. Most projects like these were done many years ago and have deteriorated or been fished-out.

Now The Pacific Northwest Aquatic Association - Wrecks to Reefs is having some success in sponsoring some state legislation that would require WA state governments to take another look at these projects in light of their impact for eco-tourism and recreation. This is a new tactic as it draws support from various tourism and economic groups not well-known for their support of lowly rockfish.

The bills (HB 2990 and SB 6610) would:
1. Amends various titles pertaining to the Dept. of Natural Resources, Dept. of Fish & Wildlife, Department of Community, Trade, & Economic Development, Dept. of Ecology, and the WA Parks & Recreation Commission to include in their policies the need to consider the promotion of 'underwater viewing' in their decisions that affect eco-tourism.

2. Calls for a conference to be led by the Dept. of Community, Trade, and Economic Development in 2006 that will produce a plan to promote WA state scuba dive tourism. The conference would include participation by the following state agencies as well as other interested constituencies: Dept. of Natural Resources, WA Parks & Recreation Commission, and the Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation.

3. Calls for an inter-agency study to examine the concept of driving job creation by placing clean vessels in Puget Sound as scuba diving tourism infrastructure. The study would be led the Dept. of Community, Trade, and Economic Development and include the Dept. of Natural Resources, the Dept. of Fish & Wildlife, the Dept. of Ecology, the Dept. of Community, Trade, and Economic Development and the WA Parks & Recreation Commission.

SB 6610 was voted unanimously out of committee to the Senate Ways and Means committee (which votes on it next week). So a big first step has been taken! We'll see that if by linking eco-tourism to artificial reefs divers might finally have some success in Puget Sound in creating some decent wreck dive sites here.

Both resident and almost more importantly non-resident divers are urged to write WA State legislators in support of the bills.

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About Jack

  • Adventurer, diver, sailor, photographer, writer and sometimes graphic designer. Proprietor of Optical Ocean Sales, LLC. Enjoy the blog, check back and please leave comments!
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