Tag Archives: orcas

Orca Task Force Proposed Mission Statement Blasted For Overlooking Seal Predation

“This is going to be the Kill Sport Fishing Task Force.”

That’s Tom Nelson’s no-holds-barred assessment of an initial work product out of Governor Jay Inslee’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force.

TOM NELSON SAYS THAT THE GOVERNOR’S ORCA TASK FORCE IS OVERLOOKING A HUGE PROBLEM, SEAL AND SEA LIONS THAT ARE CONSUMING SIX TIMES AS MANY PUGET SOUND CHINOOK AS RECREATIONAL, COMMERCIAL AND TRIBAL FISHING FLEETS ARE. (THEOUTDOORLINE.COM)

Rather than address the fact harbor seals and other marine mammals are eating up starving local orcas’ breakfast, lunch, dinner and midnight snacks, a proposed mission statement from the group says it will instead seek to enact “temporary emergency measures to offset any shortfall in prey availability.”

Nelson, co-host of the Saturday morning fishing and hunting radio show The Outdoor Line on Seattle’s 710 ESPN, interprets that to mean cutting salmon angling seasons, plain and simple.

“We’ve suffered cut after cut after cut after cut,” he bristles.

The statement also calls for reducing vessel traffic in whale feeding areas by 50 percent by the year 2022.

That probably doesn’t mean ferries, tankers and other shipping traffic, at least in Nelson’s eyes.

“It’s all going to be fishing and whale watching and recreational boats,” he says.

It all boggles Nelson, and this afternoon he ripped the apparent low-hanging-fruit approach on KIRO Radio 97.3’s Dori Monson Show.

He told his fellow radio host that officials were “ducking, dodging and diving from doing the right thing.”

A HARBOR SEAL SWIMS BESIDE A BOAT OFF KINGSTON IN MID-JULY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The task force’s “full draft” report for how to recover orcas isn’t due till Oct. 1, but that the mission statement doesn’t mention pinnipeds is highly perplexing.

Nelson points to a 2017 paper that looked at king salmon consumption in Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, San Juan Islands and Hood Canal over the previous 45 years.

“Converting juvenile Chinook salmon into adult equivalents, we found that by 2015, pinnipeds consumed double that of resident killer whales and six times greater than the combined commercial and recreational catches,” the authors’ abstract reads.

Another paper from last year with a wider lens says, “Harbor seals in the Salish Sea (i.e. Puget Sound, Strait of Georgia, and Strait of San Juan de Fuca) accounted for 86.4% of the total coast wide (Chinook) smolt consumption in 2015, due to large increases in the harbor seal abundance in this region between 1975 and 2015 (8,600 to 77,800), as well as a large diet fraction of Chinook salmon smolts relative to other regions.”

FIGURES IN “COMPETING TRADEOFFS BETWEEN INCREASING MARINE MAMMAL PREDATION AND FISHERIES HARVEST OF CHINOOK SALMON,” PUBLISHED IN SCIENTIFIC REPORTS LAST FALL, ILLUSTRATES THE INCREASING CONSUMPTION OF INDIVIDUAL CHINOOK AND CHINOOK BIOMASS BY HARBOR SEALS (BLUE) AND OTHER MARINE MAMMALS. (CHASCO ET AL)

Coastwide, the all-fleet king catch has decreased from 3.6 million to 2.1 million.

As for the paper that the governor’s group appears to be leaning on, it doesn’t mention harbor seals or sea lions once.

It does say that “a 50% noise reduction plus a 15% increase in Chinook would allow the (SRKW) population to reach the 2.3% growth target.”

That 15 percent figure can also be found in the task force’s proposed mission statement: “By 2028: In the near term, our goal is to maintain reductions in vessel disturbance and underwater noise and increase Chinook prey abundance by 15% by 2028.”

Hatchery production increases are being considered and recently state and federal biologists identified the most important Chinook rivers for SRKWs.

Noise, pollutants and prey availability are believed to be the three key factors in why J, K and L pods are struggling, but the task force paper also states, “The whales’ depleted status is due in large part to the legacy of an unsustainable live-capture fishery for display in aquariums.”

It was popular to go to SeaWorld and see orcas eat fish out of trainers’ hands.

Ironically, Nelson was threatened with a $500 fine this week for flipping a finger-sized chunk of a salmon carcass to a harbor seal hanging out in the Everett marina, where he moors his boat.

He was on camera with KING 5 for a story illustrating the abundance of harbor seals in Puget Sound.

As soon as he tossed out that piece of fish to one of the “water puppies” that more and more appear to beg for scraps from fishermen and others, he and the camera crew’s phones started ringing and he eventually found himself on the line with a federal enforcement officer.

It all may go down as a warning, but it’s illegal to feed the Marine Mammal Protection Act species.

The day before a harbor seal ate a wild Chinook right off the end of Nelson’s line as he tried to release it.

HUGH ALLEN SNAPPED THIS HARBOR SEAL STEALING A SAN JUANS SALMON LITERALLY OFF AN ANGLER’S LINE. (HUGH ALLEN)

So how would Nelson deal with the overpopulation of harbor seals that are eating Puget Sound Chinook, many of which would otherwise grow into adults and upon their return to the Salish Sea provide nourishment for the orcas?

“If we could cut their numbers in half, it could do something. We could stop this by trapping and releasing them in the ocean,” he proposes.

There, they’d be subject to being preyed on transient killer whales, the pinniped-eating kind.

“We’re going to have to act,” he says. “It ain’t gonna be nice, it ain’t gonna be pretty.”

This week, lawmakers in Washington DC voted to expand state and tribal managers’ authority to remove sea lions from more of the Lower Columbia and its tribs to reduce their predation on ESA-listed salmon and steelhead stocks.

Hold that thought, Senators.

Study Shows Importance Of Puget Sound Chinook Production To Starving Orcas

A new analysis is showing the importance of Puget Sound Chinook for the inland sea’s orcas.

Fall kings from the Nooksack to the Deschutes to the Elwha were ranked as the most important current feedstocks for the starving southern residents, followed by Lower Columbia and Strait of Georgia tribs.

A JOINT STATE-FEDERAL ANALYSIS IDENTIFIED THE SNOHOMISH RIVER BASIN AS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT PRODUCERS OF CHINOOK FOR LOCAL ORCAS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

For the analysis, NOAA and WDFW sampled orca doots to “assist in prioritizing actions to increase critical prey for the whales.”

Nutritional stress has been identified as among the chief causes of their declining numbers, and the news comes as officials report a newborn calf died off Victoria yesterday. Just half of the 28 reproductive-age “blackfish” have produced calves in the last 10 years, another report said.

“Ramp up the hatchery production. Do it now. It’s the only way,” says Tom Nelson, co-host of Seattle outdoors radio show The Outdoor Line on 710 ESPN.

He was reacting this morning while fishing for coho at Possession Bar to a Seattle Times scoop on the findings.

Reporter Lynda V. Mapes writes that from the standpoint of federal overseers, “In some instances, it might make more sense to focus on habitat restoration rather than increasing hatchery releases, [NOAA’s Lynn] Barre said. “It has to be evaluated on a watershed level … It’s not just ‘let’s make more fish to feed the whales,’ hold on, there are a few things to consider.’”

A MATRIX FROM THE NOAA-WDFW RANKS THE MOST IMPORTANT CHINOOK STOCKS FOR SOUTHERN RESIDENT KILLER WHALES BY BASIN.

Nelson, who has a degree in fisheries biology, acknowledges that the problems salmon and orcas face are highly complex, with few if any single-faceted answers, but with J, K and L pods down to just 75 animals, action is needed right now, and not just restricting already restricted salmon seasons.

“A significant increase in hatchery releases has to happen. Anything else is a long-term fix. The killer whales don’t have time,” Nelson says.

With nine out of every 10 adult Puget Sound Chinook born at, reared in and released from hatcheries, the state is planning on bolstering prroduction, with the Fish and Wildlife Commission making moves towards that, along with adding  protections for orcas from vessels, another key factor in their struggles. Pollutants also play a role.

Both the salmon stock and marine mammals are listed under the Endangered Species Act, which NOAA is charged with enforcing.

But to achieve a meaningful increase in wild Chinook numbers, you have to have better habitat, Nelson says, and that’s unlikely to occur any time soon in our densely populated region.

“If you think you’re going to get everyone to move out of the Central Sound and get it back to presettlement days, you’re dreaming,” Nelson says.

A lot of habitat work is occurring in estuaries, side channels and elsewhere, but results are painfully slow, and that pace could impact the region’s interest in continuing with the much-needed work.

Meanwhile, 89 percent of this year’s forecast of 255,219 fall kings expected to return to Strait of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound and Hood Canal rivers are hatchery fish.

KIRAN WALGAMOTT PEERS INTO AN UNUSED RACEWAY AT THE WALLACE SALMON HATCHERY NEAR GOLD BAR. THE FACILITY REARS SUMMER KINGS. CHINOOK PRODUCTION IN WESTERN WASHINGTON IS HALF OF WHAT IT WAS IN 1989 AS HATCHERY PRACTICES HAVE BEEN REFORMED TO HELP WILD STOCKS RECOVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The importance of Puget Sound Chinook — both wild and adipose-fin-clipped hatchery ones — to SRKWs is otherwise obvious because of where they hang out, off the Washington Coast, in the Straits and in the San Juans, where those salmon stocks return through on the way to their home rivers.

Upper and Middle Columbia and Snake upriver brights, and Fraser, Lower Columbia trib and Fraser springers were also highly important stocks, the analysis found.

But they also fed to a degree on Chinook from as far away as the Sacramento and Southeast Alaska.

“We can use this information as a guide, based on the best science, to help inform decisions about how we spend recovery dollars for both salmon and Southern Resident killer whales,” said Chris Yates, Assistant Regional Administrator for Protected Resources in NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region, in a NOAA news story on the analysis. “We remain committed to recovery of all West Coast salmon stocks, and this helps us understand where we can maximize our resources and partnerships to help killer whales too.”

In the words of one close observer of the salmon world, the whales don’t care if kings have an extra fin or not, yet hatchery production has and probably will face more legal challenges.

With harbor seals and sea lions identified as eating large numbers of Puget Sound Chinook before they can mature into orca fodder, Nelson also called for reducing pinniped numbers, which he says could show results in as few as three years in terms of salmon prey availability for killer whales.

A HARBOR SEAL STEALS A SAN JUANS CHINOOK LITERALLY OFF AN ANGLER’S LINE. (HUGH ALLEN)

That and hatchery production would also yield more fish for anglers and help WDFW sell more licenses, easing its budget issues.

‘A Difficult Request,’ But WDFW Asks Boaters To Avoid Strip Along Fishy Western San Juan Island

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

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 killer whales.

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.

(WDFW)

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) 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 whales.

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 fish program.

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.