State to consider ban on octopus hunting

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is considering banning octopus harvesting near a popular Seattle beach and possibly elsewhere in Puget Sound.

WDFW Director Phil Anderson said the department will consider new rules to preserve the population of giant Pacific octopuses at Seacrest Park near Alki Point, where a 19-year-old scuba diver provoked a public outcry after legally harvesting one of the charismatic animals last week.

Under current state rules, divers can harvest one giant Pacific octopus per day in most areas of Puget Sound.

“The harvesting of this animal has resulted in a strong, negative reaction from the public and the dive community,” Anderson said. “We believe this area may merit additional restrictions to enhance the traditional uses of this popular beach.”

Anderson announced the department’s plans at the start of a two-day public meeting Thursday of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, a nine-member governing body that has final authority over most new fishing rules.

Dylan Mayer, the 19-year-old diver from Seattle who started the controversy, told the commission he supports a ban on killing octopuses at the park.

“I didn’t know they were so beloved, or I wouldn’t have done it,” he said, according to a news release issued by the WDFW.

Close to two dozen scuba divers attended the meeting, at which Anderson outlined several possible options to preserve giant Pacific octopuses, ranging from designating Seacrest Park as a marine protected area to prohibiting hunting the animals anywhere in the state.

Scott Lundy, a member of the Washington Scuba Alliance, presented the commission with a petition signed by 5,000 divers supporting a ban on killing octopuses at Seacrest Park.

Anderson said WDFW will hold public meetings this winter to hear people’s thoughts on those options. While many of the divers called for an immediate ban at Seacrest Park, Anderson said Washington law requires state agencies to follow an established public process for developing new regulations.

“If the conservation of a species or the public welfare is at stake, we can take emergency action,” he said. “But the killing of the giant Pacific octopus last week appears to be an isolated case at Seacrest Park, and the species appears to be healthy throughout Puget Sound.”

However, Anderson noted that the department may still consider taking emergency action if another octopus is taken from the area.

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