When there are fewer than 966,000 Chinook swimming off the Washington and northern Oregon Coasts, fishery restrictions will be triggered to make more of the key salmon stock available for southern resident killer whales.
The primary impact will be to the nontribal commercial fleet but recreational anglers will see restrictions in times and places.
What’s known as Amendment 21 to the Pacific Coast Salmon Fishery Management Plan will reduce nontreaty quotas north of Cape Falcon, close the Columbia and Grays Harbor control zones in the first half of the year, delay the start of commercial fishing off most of the Oregon Coast and close waters off California’s Klamath River and Monterey Bay for six months starting October 1.
According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, the threshold of 966,000 represents the average preseason forecast of the seven poorest years of Chinook abundance in the ocean off the tip of the Lower 48. It’s been more than a decade since the last time it would have been tripped.
The idea came from a Pacific Fishery Management Council workgroup of state, tribal and federal reps.
It comes in response to recent years’ concerns about the orcas in J, K and L Pods, which currently number 74. At least three females in J are pregnant, leading WDFW to raise awareness about Be Whale Wise practices among boaters and give SRKWs an emergency half-mile no-go bubble.
The spread of the fishery restrictions matches primary portions of the winter and spring ranges of two of the pods. All three depend heavily on Chinook, though chum, coho, steelhead and bottomfish are seasonally important.
Transient, or Biggs, killer whales are the ones that prey on harbor seals and other marine mammals and whose numbers are doing much better thanks to the abundance of pinnipeds that are causing, in part, the dearth of Chinook for the southern residents.
Lack of Chinook is one of three primary problems for SRKWs. Others include pollution and toxin buildup in their systems, and vessels interfering with their ability to locate forage. Orcas were heard on the Lime Kiln hydrophone earlier today.
NMFS says it received almost 40,000 public comments on the amendment, many of which were form letters, but mostly in support.
“(W)ith the new amendment, the West Coast salmon fisheries will not jeopardize the continued existence of the killer whale population,” the agency stated.