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Orca Task Force Recommendations Include Focus On Salmon Runs; Non-Native Game Fish To ‘Predatory'
Posted on Friday, September 28, 2018 (PST)

An international task force brought together by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee in March this year released a list of proposed recommendations this week that, if implemented, they hope will revive the endangered population of Southern Resident Orca whales in northern Washington and British Columbia.

 

There are a number of causes for the Orca decline, but broadly the decline has been due to vessel traffic, contaminants and lack of prey, and the prey favored by the Orcas is chinook salmon, which makes up 80 percent of the whales’ diet. The problem is that the number of chinook available in the inland seas from southeast Alaska to southern Puget Sound and along the west coast to the Columbia River has also been in decline.

 

The population of Southern Resident Orcas dropped to 82 in 2003 and to a 30-year low of 74 in 2005, prompting NOAA Fisheries to list the population as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. In Canada the whales were listed under the Species at Risk Act in 2003.

 

According to the draft report released Sept. 24, experts believe that, overall, the orcas are in poor condition and struggling to raise calves. A 2018 study published by the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington, NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center and the Center for Whale Research found that up to two-thirds of Southern Resident orca pregnancies from 2007 to 2014 failed. None of the Southern Resident calves born in the past three years have survived.

 

NOAA Fisheries Recovery Plan is at (https://www.westcoast.fisheries.noaa.gov/publications/protected_species/marine_mammals/killer_whales/esa_status/srkw-recov-plan.pdf). It details and analyzes potential threats affecting Southern Residents and outlines an adaptive management approach to recovery strategies addressing each threat, based on the best available science, the Task Force report says.

 

The draft Task Force report (https://www.governor.wa.gov/sites/default/files/SRKWDraftReport_09-24-18.pdf) is out for public comment until Oct. 7 and the next Task Force meeting is Oct. 17 - 18. Comments will be incorporated into the current draft and the public will have another opportunity to comment Oct. 24 - 29. Comments can be made at governor.wa.gov/orcareport by midnight on October 7.

 

The timeline of next steps is available on the governor’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Recovery and Task Force website (https://www.governor.wa.gov/issues/issues/energy-environment/southern-resident-killer-whale-recovery-and-task-force). The final task force recommendations will be listed in the final report on November 16, 2018.

 

According to the report, travelling in three pods, orcas range from central southeast Alaska to central California but spend most of the year in the Salish Sea near the San Juan Islands and on the outer coast of Washington and southern Vancouver Island. In pursuit of migrating salmon, Southern Residents are known to forage farther south in Puget Sound during the fall and spend time near the Columbia River mouth in winter.

 

It’s not surprising that many of the potential recommendations offered in the report have to do with the recovery of chinook in both Puget Sound and the Columbia River basin. All aimed at chinook salmon recovery, it has recommendations for both Puget Sound and the Columbia basin addressing changes at hatcheries and dams, habitat improvements, reductions in contaminants and predation.

 

Among the recommendations is support for stepped up efforts to control sea lions in the Columbia River, along coastlines and in Puget Sound, as well as a recommendation for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to reclassify popular non-native gamefish, such as bass, walleye and catfish, as non-native predatory fish.

 

Potential predation recommendation number 3 says “The governor should consult with WDFW and the Invasive Species Council and then support reclassifying nonnative predatory fish (including, but not limited to, walleye, bass, and catfish) from game fish to invasive species to allow and encourage removal of these predatory fish in waters containing salmon or other ESA-listed species. It is currently illegal to "waste" sport fish and in many rivers/lakes the harvest of these nonnative predators is regulated by catch limits. Any increase in fishing for these species should not increase bycatch of salmonids.”

 

Task Force goals are:

--Between now and 2022, witness evidence of consistently well-nourished whales and the survival of several thriving young orcas.

--By 2028, see the primary indicator of body condition of the whales (the ratio of head width to body length) remain high and stable between seasons and across years, regardless of fluctuations in the West Coast abundance of Chinook, and to see an increase in the population to 84 whales (10 more whales in 10 years).

 

The report goes on to say that to achieve these goals, it commits to:

 

• Restoring sustainable, harvestable chinook populations across Washington state in accordance with federally approved salmon recovery plans.

• Reducing the impacts of vessel noise and disturbance so that the Southern Residents are able to effectively forage, rest and socialize.

• Reducing the toxicity of the ecosystem to improve the health of whales and their prey.

 

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.

 

Also see:

 

-- CBB, Sept. 14, 2018, “NOAA Fisheries Studying Nighttime Behavior Of Endangered Killer Whales As Part Of Action Plan” http://www.cbbulletin.com/441483.aspx

 

--CBB, May 11, 2018, “Puget Sound Boaters Asked To Observe ‘No-Go’ Zone To Protect Foraging Orcas,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/440697.aspx

 

--CBB, 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

 

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