Octopus capture off Alki prompts call for preserve

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When a diver dragged a giant Pacific octopus out of the water in West Seattle this week, it sparked a push for a new state Marine Protected Area in Central Puget Sound.

It’s legal to hunt octopus in Washington, and the 19-year-old fisherman had a valid shellfish license when he captured a giant Pacific octopus at Cove 2 in Alki at about 4:45 p.m. on Halloween, said Craig Bartlett, spokesman for the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

The catch limit for giant Pacific octopus — the world’s largest — is one per day, and populations of the animals are believed to be healthy.

The hunter banged two metal rods together underwater to irritate the octopus and lure it out of its lair, Bartlett said. It is illegal in Washington to flush an octopus out of its den with chemical irritants, but scaring or irritating the animals with noise is allowed.

The controversy got started when dive instructor Bob Bailey, of Federal Way, said he was arriving at Cove 2 with a student when they encountered two divers in the water. “He said, ‘Hey, are they taking an octopus?’ “ Bailey said of his student.

“I looked over and there are two divers dragging an octopus, and I said, ‘Maybe they found a dead one.’ And he said, ‘No, a couple of minutes ago they were punching it on the surface.’ I walked over to them and it was evident it was still alive.”

They exchanged words. And while the hunt was legal, Bailey said it shouldn’t have been, at that location.

“I don’t have an issue with hunting. People dive for all sorts of reasons. I don’t have a problem with it. It is not whether you hunt, it is where you hunt, and there are appropriate and inappropriate places to do that.

“People come from all over the world to dive here and see the octopus that live here.”

He believes the designated diving area at Cove 2 should be made a state Marine Protected Area, where fishing would be restricted. He stressed he would want the boundary drawn to include the popular diving spot, but exclude a nearby fishing pier.

Bailey went home after his encounter and posted photos he and a friend took of the diver with the octopus, on dive websites.

“It went viral; I had over 100 emails (Thursday). I am getting emails from South Africa, Florida, Georgia, Australia,” Bailey said.

“People come from all over the world to see our octopus, and that site is the number one place in Puget Sound.”

Meanwhile, Bob Davidson, president and CEO of the Seattle Aquarium, said the aquarium, which was active in helping to protect the state’s existing marine protected areas, is going to advocate for protection for Cove 2.

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