The harvest of a giant Pacific octopus (GPO) at a popular dive spot in West Seattle sparked much discussion across the Puget Sound region and in the dive community worldwide in late 2012 and early 2013. Many were surprised that recreational harvesting of GPOs was legal; in fact, regulations stated that anyone with a valid fishing license could take one per day from most areas of the Sound.
In response, the Aquarium agreed with State agencies that it was time to review GPO management options. The effort to determine the best management approach was led by the State of Washington; partners included the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), the state Department of Natural Resources, the Seattle Aquarium and other community entities. Seattle Aquarium Conservation Manager Mark Plunkett served on a 12-person advisory group for six months to provide input to the WDFW Commission. The Aquarium served as a host for advisory group meetings and a public workshop; Aquarium biologists Tim Carpenter and Kathryn Kegel shared research about the species developed by Aquarium staff as well.
In August, the WDFW Commission extended protections for giant Pacific octopuses in Puget Sound by prohibiting the recreational harvest of the species at seven popular diving sites in locations from Whidbey Island to Tacoma. Combined, the sites amount to over 1,300 acres of subtidal waters and represent a 65 percent increase in nearshore marine protected areas.
Giant Pacific octopuses are the largest species of octopus in the world. While they’re found along the U.S. coastline from California to Alaska, the Sound’s shallower waters allow them to be seen more easily by divers. Giant Pacific octopuses are one of the main diving attractions in the Sound. Preserving their populations at popular dive sites helps ensure that people can continue to closely observe and appreciate them for years to come.