Chance To Comment On Orca Recommendations

You have two weeks to submit comments on potential proposals that Washington’s southern resident killer whale task force‘s three working groups rolled out yesterday.

The task force as a whole will review the public’s submissions in mid-October and send a final report with its agreed-to recommendations to Governor Jay Inslee in mid-November.

AN ORCA BREACHES IN THE SAN JUAN ISLANDS. (BLM)

Some of the ideas that will catch the eyes of fishermen include:

  • Boost hatchery Chinook production: There are three proposals, with 1A calling for increased releases, 1B for pilot projects and 1C, a combination of both along with habitat improvements. Upping production would require funding for more infrastructure and to complete scientific reviews;
  • Fund habitat purchases and restoration projects benefiting key Chinook stocks;
  • Develop a system to be able to close sport and commercial fisheries when orcas are in key feeding zones. This could go into effect by next spring and would appear to be dependent on setting up more hydrophones to better track SRKW movements, which is another potential recommendation;
  • Ask fishermen and boaters to switch their fish- and depthfinders from 50 kHz to 200 kHz within half a mile of orcas;
  • Buyout nontreaty commercial licenses and work with the tribes to consider the feasibility of doing so with treaty fishermen or switching to gear with lower impacts on Chinook;
  • Establish a half-mile-wide, 7-knots-or-less go-slow zone around orcas;
  • Create new no-go zones on the west side of San Juan Island and elsewhere in the islands and Strait of Juan de Fuca;
  • Continue studying the problem of pinniped predation on Chinook or begin a pilot program to immediately start removing the haul-outs of salmon-eating harbor seals, or both, as well as continue pushing the federal government for more management options to deal with sea lions in the Columbia and its tribs;
  • Reclassify walleye and bass as invasive, which would remove the “game fish” designation and subsequent rules against wastage;
  • Study whether altering the McNary Pool’s elevation would reduce the numbers of salmonid smolt-eating fish in the reservoir;
  • Develop a better understanding of Puget Sound forage fish populations;
  • Support Chinook reintroduction into the Upper Columbia and prioritize removing fish passage barriers that would benefit stocks elsewhere;
  • And continue to be involved in the conversation surrounding what to do with the four dams on the lower Snake River to varying degrees.

A HARBOR SEAL STEALS A CHINOOK OFF THE END OF AN ANGLER’S LINE IN THE SAN JUAN ISLANDS. (HUGH ALLEN)

There are many more, including potential recommendations addressing habitat, hydropower operations, contaminants and marine vessels.

The task force was convened earlier this year when the governor signed an executive order directing state agencies to begin doing what they could to help out the orcas, which are struggling due to lack of Chinook and other factors.

WDFW STAFFER EDWARD ELEAZER PARTICIPATED IN A TRIAL TO SEE WHETHER IT WAS POSSIBLE TO FEED AILING ORCA J50, NOW PRESUMED DEAD. A LACK OF CHINOOK IS STARVING LOCAL PODS. (KATY FOSTER/NOAA/FLICKR)

Since members of the panel — which includes Puget Sound Anglers’ Ron Garner, the Northwest Marine Trade Association’s George Harris, Long Live the Kings’ Jacques White, WDFW’s Brad Smith and Amy Windrope, tribal members and legislators Rep. Brian Blake and Sen. Kevin Ranker — began meeting two whales have died, including a newborn and a three-year-old adding urgency to the mission.

Some ideas did not make the cut from the working groups, but near the end of the public survey a question asks if they would otherwise be part of your top five strategies.

Those include further reducing fishing time in the Straits and San Juans in summer; coming up with a limited-entry recreational fishing permit system for key orca foraging areas; increasing WDFW’s hydraulic code enforcement budget; working with the Burlington Northern Sante Fe railroad on habitat work along the tracks as they run up Puget Sound; and pushing for the Corps of Engineers to quit the four dams on the lower Snake and then take them out, among others.

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