You might remember that last Halloween a state-licensed SCUBA diver caught an octopus off of Seacrest Park and brought it out of the water at Cove 2. This sparked distress and outrage among the creatures’ devoted fans. Many who were angered are divers who regularly frequent the location and appreciate the chance to spot an octopus underwater.
Sharing the public’s concerns, I asked my staff to reach out to the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) and the Seattle Aquarium to investigate the options that the city might have for protecting octopuses.
DPR and Aquarium personnel brought me up to speed on the city’s available tools – most importantly, the ability to create “marine preserves.” We have preserves at six beach parks in Seattle. At a marine preserve, no living thing may be taken out of the water or the park (other than finfishing, as per Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) regulations.
Seacrest Park, where the octopus was taken, is unfortunately not designated a marine preserve, nor is it likely to be so designated.
Seacrest Park: A Heavily Used Recreational Area
The City of Seattle has invested a good deal of energy and money into making Seacrest Park appealing and usable for the fishing and recreation community. It’s a haven for many who fish, rent boats, kayaks and paddle boards. It’s heavily used by divers year round. We also approved a six year lease with Marination, a lovely new restaurant at the park.
Add in the bicycles, skateboards, and rollerblades found in abundance along Alki, as well as the dock for the King County Water Taxi (the West Seattle passenger ferry), and you get a very heavily used recreational area that doesn’t have the sensitive shoreline habitat areas that we protect at other sites. As a result, DPR and the Aquarium advised against pursuing a marine preserve option for that location.
I understood, but didn’t like the answer.
The State Steps In
In the meantime, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) began to investigate the situation. WDFW received three petitions for various forms of giant Pacific octopus harvest bans:
- Cove 2 harvest ban
- Ban on sites accessed from state-owned beaches
- Sound-wide ban (with 5,000 signatures; mostly SCUBA community)
Timeline for Decision
The Washington Fish and Wildlife (WFW) Commission, which sets policy for WDFW, denied all three petitions, but directed WDFW staff to take the following steps:
February 2013: Form an ad hoc giant Pacific octopus advisory group charged with making recommendations on whether new rules are warranted for managing octopuses – and possibly other species – in Puget Sound. Nominations for membership in this group are still being accepted, through February 15.
The advisory group will be asked to develop recommendations within a range of options:
- Close all of Puget Sound to the recreational harvest of giant Pacific octopuses.
- Close popular dive site in Puget Sound to the recreational harvest of giant Pacific octopuses.
- Close popular dive sites in Puget Sound to the recreational harvest of any species.
- Take no action.
February – March 2013: Public hearings on options.
April 2013: WFW Commission briefing on options, and recommendation.
June 2013: WFW Commission meeting and testimony on options, recommendations.
August 2013: WFW Commission decision.
A Role for the City?
Meanwhile, my office, DPR, and the Aquarium continue to consider rational steps the City might be able to take to protect the octopus and other wildlife at Seacrest Park.
At first, we thought that creating new signage to educate the public about giant Pacific octopuses in general and state rules specifically might be a worthy effort. Unfortunately, a recent tour of Seacrest Park revealed that the place is absolutely covered with signage already. Way too many signs.
So my office is consulting right now with DPR on whether the existing signage might be revamped or consolidated to allow a less cluttered, and more informative landscape.
Meanwhile, we are keeping an eye on the formation of the octopus advisory group. Our hope is that a marine expert from the Aquarium will be elected to join the group, where he can also be a liaison for my office and DPR.
Finally, the Aquarium itself is advancing plans to increase public education on GPO conservation including the annnual Beach Naturalist Program this spring and summer, and a variety of other educational opportunities.
Visit the Octopuses at the Aquarium this week
If you are a lover of these glorious creatures, consider visiting the Seattle Aquarium at noon on Feb 23-24 to watch divers swim with octopuses and show off some of the amazing facts about these beloved denizens of Puget Sound.
A diver myself, (admittedly I prefer warmer water!), I’ve written before on the subject of giant Pacific octopuses (Wrap your arms, all 8 of them, around someone you love). If you want to learn more, you can find a complete list of Octopus Week Activities on the Aquarium web site.