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Groups Give NOAA 60-Day Notice To Consider Impact Of Salmon Fisheries On Orcas
Posted on Friday, January 11, 2019 (PST)

Two conservation groups notified the U.S. Department of Commerce and NOAA Fisheries of their intention to sue saying that their “mismanagement” of West Coast fisheries is harming southern resident killer whales in Puget Sound.

 

Giving 60-days notice, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Wild Fish Conservancy sent a letter December 18 to Secretary Wilbur Ross and to Barry Thom, regional administrator of NOAA Fisheries asking the agencies to “assess and mitigate” the impact of Pacific Ocean salmon fishing on the southern resident orcas, which are listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.

 

“These orcas will go extinct if federal officials don’t ensure there’s enough wild salmon available to eat,” said attorney Julie Teel Simmonds with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We can’t allow business as usual in the salmon fisheries while Southern Resident killer whales are starving to death. We have to move fast because time is running out.”

 

The groups say that the population of the resident killer whales is at a 34-year low and that the future health of the population is not positive. None of the calves born in the last three years have survived. In their notice, they cited a July incident in which a calf died within an hour of birth, but “her grieving mother carried her body seventeen days over hundreds of miles.”

 

November 16, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Recovery Task Force released a report on the orcas that listed 36 recommendations for their recovery. The report listed as causes for their decline vessel traffic, contaminants and lack of prey. Their favorite prey is chinook salmon, which makes up 80 percent of the whales’ diet. An adult male orca needs about 325 pounds of chinook salmon every day.

 

(See CBB, November 20, 2018, “Orca Recovery Task Force Recommendations Include Considering Removal Of Lower Snake Dams,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/441811.aspx)

 

Inslee followed up on his Task Force’s recommendations by adding $1.1 billion to the Washington budget to address many of its recommendations (see CBB, December 21, 2018, “Inslee Budget Includes Over $1 Billion For Orcas/Salmon; $750,000 For Task Force On Snake Dams,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/441942.aspx).

 

The problem is that the numbers of chinook available in the inland seas from southeast Alaska to southern Puget Sound and along the west coast to the Columbia River have also been in decline. In their 60-day notice, the groups say they want NOAA “to update its salmon fishery management policies to comply with the Endangered Species Act.” They call upon NOAA “to update its outdated biological assessment of Southern Residents.”

 

“There’s growing evidence that chinook size and abundance are closely related to the survival and reproductive success of Southern Resident killer whales,” said Kurt Beardslee, executive director of the Wild Fish Conservancy. “Yet federal fishery managers responsible for protecting this endangered population have ignored data showing how ocean harvest management contributes to the decline of both chinook salmon and Southern Resident killer whales.”

 

Early in January, the Center for Whale Research said that two southern resident orcas are ailing and probably will be dead by summer. Their research is showing that one of the whales, a 42-year old female, is suffering from “peanut head,” a misshapen head and neck caused by starvation. A second 27-year old male is also failing, suffering from insufficient food.

 

In their 60-day notice letter, the groups say that NOAA Fisheries (National Marine Fisheries Service) “is in violation of Section 7 of the ESA by failing to reinitiate and complete consultation on the impacts of Pacific Coast salmon fisheries on critically endangered Southern Resident killer whales. Consequently, NMFS is failing to ensure that its ongoing authorization and management of the Pacific Coast salmon fisheries under the Pacific Coast Salmon Fishery Management Plan (‘Pacific Salmon Plan’) are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the endangered Southern Resident killer whales.”

 

The full 60-day notice letter is at http://wildfishconservancy.org/CBDWFCSRKW60DayNoticeforPacificSalmonFisheriesDecember182018.pdf

 

If the groups follow through with a lawsuit, it would be the third such suit related to Southern Resident killer whales.

 

According to a news release, the Center for Biological Diversity sued the Department of Commerce and NOAA Fisheries August 1, 2018, asking it to establish a “whale protection zone,” and August 16 it sued NOAA for failing to protect the Southern Resident’s full West Coast habitat.

 

Also see:

 

-- CBB, September 28, 2018, “Orca Task Force Recommendations Include Focus On Salmon Runs; Non-Native Game Fish To ‘Predatory,’” http://www.cbbulletin.com/441561.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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