A new lawsuit aims to halt a Washington initiative that’s increasing hatchery Chinook production so that more are available for starving southern resident killer whales, with shirttail benefits for fishermen.
Wild Fish Conservancy and The Conservation Angler are asking a state superior court judge to declare the Orca Prey Initiative, a host of WDFW salmon hatchery expansion plans and a new Fish and Wildlife Commission policy invalid and that they be enjoined – meaning blocked – until they undergo State Environmental Policy Act or environmental impact statement reviews.
The Duvall- and Edmonds-based organizations filed the suit over alleged procedural violations in King County Superior Court yesterday.
“We’ve received it and are reviewing,” said Eryn Couch, a WDFW spokeswoman, this afternoon.
It comes as the agency is in the middle of harvesting millions of additional eggs from returning spring, summer and fall Chinook – key feedstocks for SRKWs – at key orca hatcheries, from Kendall Creek, Samish, Marblemount and Wallace in the North Sound to Sol Duc on the West End to Naselle in Willapa Bay.
Lack of forage was identified as one three primary reasons behind Washington killer whale declines, along with environmental contaminants and vessel traffic, and increasing fish production was identified by Governor Jay Inslee’s broadly based Orca Task Force as an “immediate step” to take while wild salmon habitat restoration continues over the long term.
To that end the state legislature and federal government have ponied up millions of dollars, the result being the release of 11.6 million extra hatchery Chinook released last year and 18.3-plus million additional kings expected to let go this year, per NMFS.
But WFC and TCA claim that WDFW’s expansion plans the past four years were “a big gamble” that should have triggered a SEPA review, given potential impacts to Endangered Species Act-listed salmon stocks.
And they’re also challenging the determination of nonsignificance, or DNS, of the Fish and Wildlife Commission’s support-playing new Anadromous Salmon and Steelhead Policy, approved earlier this year.
Their 44-page lawsuit asks the court to “Enjoin WDFW and its agents from taking any action to implement any element of any past, ongoing, or planned state hatchery expansion under the 2018 Hatchery Expansion,the Orca Prey Initiative, the 2019 Expansion Plan, the 2021 Expansion Master Plan and the 2021 Hatchery Policy (C-3624), and any other similar plans and policies that have not undergone SEPA review, unless and until WDFW complies with SEPA.”
They’re asking for attorney’s fees and “such other relief as the Court deems just and equitable.”
The organizations are represented by Vashon Island attorney Claire Loeb Davis, who is also the president of the new Washington Wildlife First, which has WDFW in its bull’s-eye on matters ranging from spring bear hunts to wolf management to results of a recent state auditor’s report to pushing Inslee to name two more “reform-minded” members to the commission.
It’s not WFC’s only attempt to gut the Orca Prey Initiative.
Part of its suit against the National Marine Fisheries Service over Southeast Alaska salmon fisheries attempts to fin-clip the program’s federal funding.
And the organization has been trying to sue WDFW in US District Court over some of the same salmon hatchery programs listed in the state court suit.
That latter litigation attempts to piggyback on WFC’s “perhaps … most shameful lawsuit yet,” “a farce” that attempted to derail the development and release of a new local strain of summer steelhead into the Skykomish, which was ultimately greenlighted and approved by the feds and backed by a wide spectrum of stakeholders as part of a broader accord on steelhead.