Washington panel restricts octopus hunting

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — A Washington state panel on Friday prohibited the recreational hunting of giant Pacific octopuses at seven popular scuba diving sites in the Puget Sound region, following an outcry when a man was spotted killing one of the elusive creatures.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission called for a review of the rules after a diver killed an octopus in October near Alki Point in Seattle. A diving instructor who arrived on the beach saw him beating the octopus to death.

Photos of the event outraged other divers who are familiar with octopus lairs and watch for the creatures. Divers petitioned the panel to outlaw octopus hunting or to create marine preserves where they’ll be safe.

The commission’s unanimous vote came Friday, after the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, working with a citizen advisory committee that included sport fishermen and recreational divers, developed options ranging from no rule changes to banning the recreational hunt throughout Puget Sound.

Current rules allow a person with a valid state fishing license to harvest one giant Pacific octopus per day in most areas of Puget Sound.

One of the sites where hunting will be prohibited is the spot where the octopus was killed last fall.

Fish and Wildlife received hundreds of comments on the options, the commission said in a statement. The commission sets policy for the Fish and Wildlife Department.

Many sport fishermen wanted to keep current rules while many divers favored a Puget Sound-wide ban, said Craig Burley in Fish and Wildlife’s fish management program.

The Puget Sound octopus population appears healthy and the current recreational harvest is very small, Burley said.

The Seattle Aquarium says giant Pacific octopuses average 90 pounds and their arms can span 20 feet across, but a fully grown octopus can fit through a hole the size of a lemon.

The octopuses live in rocky dens, recognized by the discarded shells of crabs and clams they eat. They hunt at night and also eat fish and other species of octopus. Their suckers hold prey, which the octopus tears apart with a parrot-like beak.

Giant Pacific octopuses can change color at will depending on their surroundings and mood.

Several commission members mentioned the creatures’ broad appeal to recreational divers around the world.

“Washington is an important dive location, and protection of the octopus is important both to the dive community and to the economy of the state,” said Commissioner Conrad Mahnken of Bainbridge Island, located west of Seattle across the sound.

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