Dear Chair Anderson and Council Members,
Thank you for considering the impacts of ocean salmon fisheries on endangered Southern Resident killer whales (orcas) and conservation and management measures to limit those impacts. As you know, this unique orca population has continued to decline since being listed as endangered in 2006, and as of June 2019 there are only 76 individuals left—the lowest in 34 years. If bold and comprehensive actions are not taken soon, these animals may be lost forever. Loss of this special population of orcas would be a loss to our oceans, society, and culture.
On average 99 percent of an orca’s diet is comprised of salmon, particularly Chinook salmon. But the orcas’ priority food source is also at risk. Many Chinook salmon populations are threatened with extinction and it’s estimated that 40 percent of wild Chinook salmon populations from the U.S. Pacific Northwest and California are already extinct. Some orcas in this population are literally starving to death and the stress associated with not enough food to eat is affecting their ability to reproduce.
To recover Southern Resident orcas, broad and bold actions are needed to recover and restore salmon throughout their range. As fishery managers, you play an essential role in this effort. While there are many reasons salmon are in decline, reducing directed ocean salmon fishing and reducing salmon bycatch in other fisheries are important measures that can been taken now to increase prey availability for orca. I urge you to you take action to help these orcas recover by achieving the following:
- Identify and implement a critical Chinook salmon abundance threshold, below which Pacific Ocean salmon fisheries would close in order to help ensure enough salmon for orcas to eat.
- Consider and implement time and area closures in specific hotspots where orcas feed to minimize direct competition between orcas and fishing activity.
- Update the Pacific Coast Salmon Fishery Management Plan with an objective of managing and regulating salmon fisheries in a manner that accounts for the needs of Southern Resident orcas and ensures their protection into the future.
- Support actions to recover Chinook salmon through habitat restoration and dam removal projects, like the Lower Snake River dams.
- Overhaul the analysis and methods used to measure current priority Chinook populations compared with their historic levels of abundance, and the likely effects of all Pacific salmon fisheries, plus bycatch in other managed fisheries, on a declining orca population.
Without bold, comprehensive actions, these orcas could soon be lost forever. I appreciate you taking up this important issue and I urge you to take actions that will help the Southern Resident orca population recover before it’s too late.