State fish and wildlife managers are asking
anglers and other boaters to avoid an area along the west side of San Juan
Island in an effort to protect a dwindling population of southern resident
Despite state and federal government
protection, the population of southern resident killer whales has declined from
98 whales in 1995 to just 76 in December 2017. Major threats to the whales
include a lack of prey – chinook salmon, in particular – disturbance from
vessel traffic and noise, as well as toxic contaminants.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
will be working with partner agencies and stakeholder groups to help educate
people about the voluntary "no-go" zone, which applies to all
recreational boats – fishing or otherwise – as well as commercial vessels.
The no-go zone is located on the west side of
San Juan Island, including:
--From Mitchell Bay in the north to Cattle
Point in the south, extending a quarter-mile offshore for the entire stretch.
--In an area around the Lime Kiln Lighthouse,
the no-go zone extends further offshore – half of a mile.
A map of these areas is available on WDFW's
website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/orca/, where boaters also can find existing regulations on properly
operating vessels near orcas.
These waters represent the areas in the San
Juan Islands that southern resident killer whales most frequently use for
foraging and socializing. To improve conditions for the whales, WDFW is asking
vessel operators to stay out of these key areas to allow the whales a quiet
area to feed.
"This voluntary no-go zone is a good step
in helping to reduce human impacts in an important foraging area for southern
resident killer whales," said Penny Becker, WDFW's policy lead on killer
In March, the governor signed an executive
order creating a task force and directing WDFW and other state agencies to take
immediate action to benefit southern resident killer whales. In designing this
year's salmon fisheries, the department reduced fisheries in areas – such as
the San Juan Islands, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Admiralty Inlet –
important to orcas.
In late April, NOAA Fisheries asked the state
to take additional action to protect southern resident killer whales during the
upcoming fishing season. In response, the state included the voluntary measure
in a set of actions NOAA should consider as the federal agency develops
authorization for Puget Sound salmon fisheries.
"This step will help support killer whale
recovery and prevents a potential delay in federal approval for our salmon
fisheries throughout the entire Sound," said Ron Warren, head of WDFW's
Warren acknowledged that this is a difficult
request to make of anglers who fish the San Juans, given the reduced
opportunities for salmon fishing in the area this year. But there are a variety
of other salmon fisheries in Puget Sound this season.
In particular, he noted that in other areas of
the Sound anglers have more opportunities to fish for coho salmon than in
recent years. More information about this year's salmon fisheries can be found
online at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon/.
Warren said there is an exception for vessels
participating in a commercial fishery targeting Fraser River sockeye that takes
place in the northern portion of the no-go zone, given the limited number of
commercial openings (six to eight days) this year.
As part of the governor's directive, WDFW is
working with NOAA and state agencies to increase hatchery production of salmon
to benefit southern resident killer whales. However, it will take three to four
years for fish released from Washington hatcheries to be available as returning
adults for the whales.
WDFW also will continue to work with tribal
co-managers and other agencies to restore salmon habitat.
"Our efforts to recover killer whales
ultimately will mean more salmon returning to Puget Sound each year, which will
benefit anglers as well as orcas," Warren said.
More information about the governor's task
force is available online at https://www.governor.wa.gov/issues/issues/energy-environment/southern-resident-killer-whale-recovery-and-task-force
March 16, 218, “Washington Governor Signs Executive Order To Protect Orcas,
Chinook Salmon” http://www.cbbulletin.com/440354.aspx
-- CBB, Jan. 15, 2016, “Study: Chinook Salmon
Make Up 80 Percent Of Diet For ESA-Listed Killer Whales In Pacific Northwest” http://www.cbbulletin.com/435857.aspx