No mention of orcas in Columbia salmon injunction email

The appended email from the “Columbia and Snake River Campaigns” provides a helpful synopsis (despite the awful typos) of recent legal activity regarding the management of salmon in the river system.  I find it noteworthy that the supporting quotes (and the email overall) make no mention of killer whales and their need for Columbia/Snake salmon.  It’s all about jobs in the fishing industry; there’s no mention of jobs in the whale watching industry.

Does anyone have good stats on the value of each industry?  I have a value in my head for the whale watching industry (from a 1990’s era article that I don’t have handy) of about $90 million per year for the US/Canada whale watching industry.  I’m not sure if this is direct revenue from whale watching, or integrated across all business driven by the whales existence.  A super-cursory search for salmon industry value turned up the newspaper article that suggests $60-300 million per year for West Coast (US) commercial and sport fisheries and associated business.

Salmon advocates work in court to restore salmon and Northwest jobs

Bobby Hayden,

Dear Scott,

Last week, the State of Oregon, along with fishing and
conservation groups within the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition
asked a federal judge for help to improve river conditions for
endangered Columbia-Snake salmon and to begin rebuilding jobs
supporting West Coast fishing families and the salmon economy.

This past June, these same groups filed a lawsuit against the
Bush administration’s May 2008 Federal Salmon Plan for violating
the Endangered Species and Clean Water Acts. Over the last eight
years, courts have ruled the previous three federal plans
illegal for refusing to follow the science and the law and
failing to save and restore healthy runs of salmon and

Last week’s request to the judge was filed in U.S. District
Court (called an “injunction”) and seeks specific protections
for Columbia-Snake River salmon and steelhead in 2009. If and
how these measures are implemented depends Judge Redden’s ruling
on the Administration’s 2008 Salmon Plan. Many of the requested
measures, such as increased water flow and spill over the dams,
help mimic a real river and have proven to be effective
short-term solutions to aid salmon and support local fishing

On January 16, 2009, Judge Redden will hear oral arguments from
both sides on this important case. This request for the court to
require specific measures to help salmon in 2009 and beyond will
not be answered until after the Judge first rules on the
lawfulness of the 2008 Federal plan. made last week is unlikely
to be addressed until after the court rules on the merits. A
ruling on the injunction would be made sometime after
mid-February 2009. Please read below for more information. Stay
tuned for more updates as this moves forward.

What you can do:
While a favorable decision on the injunction will be a real
boost for salmon and West Coast fishing communities, it is not a
lasting solution. We need leadership from members of Congress,
both in the Northwest and across the country. In 2009 they will
have a great opportunity to move legislation begins to restore
endangered Columbia and Snake River salmon, creates new jobs,
and ensure a truly clean and affordable energy future.

If you haven’t already sent a quick message to your members of
Congress, please do so now:

Recent press on the issue:
Times-News – Twin Falls, ID: Salmon advocates propose dam
spills, higher flows

Associated Press (in the Oregonian): Salmon advocates ask for
more water over dams

Recent quotes from Northwest leaders:

Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s
“This is a jobs issue for the fishing industry, pure and simple.
The Snake and Columbia River dams still kill millions of salmon
and devastate salmon-dependent communities all up and down the
coast. Frankly, the Bush administration’s policy has been
nothing but denial and delay. With the new Obama administration
and next year’s Congress, we have a new opportunity to recover
these once-mighty salmon runs before it is too late. Otherwise,
we will see economic devastation in the Northwest like never

Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing
Industry Association:
“We need the court to make sure we keep salmon on life support
until we can get them to the recovery room. We saw improved
salmon returns this year only because in 2006 fishers and
conservationists fought tooth and nail in court to secure
protections for these fish. But the Bush administration has
already stripped away these protections, calling for lower flows
and less spill. We’re fighting to make sure that this year’s
good news will not become just a fleeting memory.”

Harvey Morrison, Spokane contractor and steelhead fisherman:
“It’s important to understand that what is being proposed in
this preliminary injunction is not a long-term solution to the
economic crisis in the Northwest. It’s a stop-gap measure that
we must rely on because the Bush administration has left us no
other choice We need our Northwest lawmakers to show leadership
and bring people together so that we can find lasting solutions
that will secure fishing jobs as well as important
transportation needs for farmers in Inland Northwest.”

Bill Sedivy, executive director of Idaho Rivers United:
“This [request] is designed to buy our salmon and steelhead time
while we get to the business of developing a clean energy
infrastructure that is not dangerous for salmon and steelhead
and set the table for broad regional discussions and
negotiations that are going to lead to a final and successful
salmon solution someday.”


The recent injunction request seeks more spill over the dams and
increased river flow through Columbia-Snake River reservoirs to
help juvenile salmon migrate to the ocean. Science shows that
the quicker young salmon make it through the heavily dammed
river system, the higher their survival rate. But the Bush
administration’s salmon plan (also called a Biological Opinion,
or “BiOp”) released earlier this year rolls back – and even
eliminates – some of the key protections ordered by the court in
the past. Those court-ordered protections contributed to 2008’s
improved returns.

According to the Fish Passage Center, a government-funded,
independent science and data analysis agency that monitors
Columbia-Snake River salmon and steelhead, this year’s improved
returns are likely the result of more water left in the river
and the spilling of additional water over dams in 2006 when the
now-returning fish were migrating to the ocean as young salmon.
Judge Redden court-ordered those in-river improvements after
conservationists and fishermen fought to have them instituted –
over the vehement objections of federal agencies. Fishermen are
hailing the so-called “Redden effect” as an important tool for
keeping and creating sustainable jobs in the region until a
scientifically-sound, legally-valid salmon plan is in place.

This June, the State of Oregon, fishing and conservation groups
filed litigation against the Bush administration’s May 2008
salmon plan for violating the Endangered Species Act and the
Clean Water Act. Courts have already invalidated three prior
federal plans. On January 16, 2009, Judge Redden will hear oral
arguments on the merits of the case. The injunction requested
today is unlikely to be addressed until after the court rules on
the merits. Any ruling on the proposed injunction would be made
sometime after mid-February 2009.

3 Responses to No mention of orcas in Columbia salmon injunction email

  1. Scott, there is an orca claim in the underlying case against the Bush administration – the same groups that filed the injunction have challenged the May 2008 Biological Opinion for many reasons, one of which is because it violates the Endangered Species Act since it fails to take into account Columbia-Snake chinook as an important food source for endangered Puget Sound orcas. Orcas are not mentioned in the action alert on the preliminary injunction simply for legal reasons. The attorneys went with the strongest measures in the injunction filing to ensure its passage, however, improved flow and higher spills on the River will boost Columbia-Snake salmon numbers, including chinook, which are the main part of orcas’ diet. I assure you Save Our Wild Salmon is working the orca issue very hard and we clearly see the link. Unfortunately, we haven’t been successful in getting the message into press because the 7 orcas that disappeared last summer did so after it looked like they weren’t getting enough food in the Sound (where chinook come from Canada’s troubled Fraser River.) We have been sending press releases, calling reporters and attending orca events with our message to no avail. We even drafted and placed a prominent op-ed in the Seattle P-I about a month ago that linked orcas to Columbia-Snake salmon declines. It’s a complicated issue, but please don’t assume from one e-mail update that we are ignoring this issue. We’re working quite hard and will continue to do so.

  2. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer
    November 3, 2008
    Orcas deserve a fighting chance

    Puget Sound’s orcas are dying. Seven whales, nearly 10 percent of the population, disappeared this summer and are presumed dead. There were reports of “skinny” whales spread out for miles, foraging intensely, suggesting a lack of food. If the seven missing whales did not actually starve to death, malnutrition likely made them more vulnerable to disease. So to determine why the orcas are dying, we must ask, “What happened to their food?”

    Puget Sound orcas eat almost nothing but salmon, mostly large Chinook. But today the Sound’s Chinook are listed as endangered; 15 of the historic Chinook runs are now extinct and other populations are just 10 percent of what they were.

    But Puget Sound is not the only source of Chinook for orcas. In fact, the federal government’s orca recovery plan suggests that the biggest change in food availability for Puget Sound’s orcas since the late 1800s is a decline not in Puget Sound salmon, but salmon from the Columbia/Snake River basin.

    From historic levels of 16 million salmon each year, Columbia salmon runs have dropped to about a million fish annually. Similarly, Chinook populations have crashed in the Klamath and Sacramento rivers, forcing a ban this year on all Chinook fishing from Mexico to Washington.

    So as our orcas head down the coast this winter, they will be hard-pressed to find enough food. Many of those weakened by hunger may not return next spring. The West Coast salmon crisis has become an orca crisis, too.

    Biologists have seen this coming. A year ago, a group of scientists sent a letter to the regional administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warning that our orcas’ food supply was down and that we could not rely on existing measures alone to address the problem. Those scientists called for removing four outdated federal dams on the lower Snake River in southeastern Washington to open up valuable Chinook habitat and stop severe salmon declines. But NOAA has flatly rejected this suggestion; the dams remain; and salmon continue to disappear.

    On Dec. 1, the Puget Sound Partnership will issue an action plan that hopefully will reduce the torrent of toxins that pour into the Sound every day and protect and restore habitat for forage fish that so many birds and fish, including salmon, depend on. What it won’t do is address the Columbia/Snake issue, which must not be ignored.

    Let’s to move swiftly to fund and carry out a strong plan to restore the health of Puget Sound and its salmon. And let’s do what it takes to bring salmon back to the Columbia/Snake.

    The federal government isn’t doing what’s needed to restore endangered salmon and orcas in the Pacific Northwest. The status quo is not working and our rich ecosystem is in serious trouble.

    If we lose the salmon, we definitely lose the orcas. Salmon need clean habitat to spawn in and food to grow. Given a fighting chance, they can recover. If we give that chance to our salmon, we will have a hope of saving our orcas.
    Kathy Fletcher is executive director of People For Puget Sound. Howard Garrett is co-founder of Orca Network.

  3. Nat,

    Thanks for the clarification and Howie’s and Kathy’s letter. I appreciate all the good work SOWS has been doing and hope you will let us orca researchers and advocates know how to participate in the process of saving Northwest salmon stocks. It’s a good start that you’re here commenting on this blog! It seems further that we orca scientists need to expand our prey sampling and killer whale behavioral studies into the outer coastal waters of Washington, particularly during the periods when Columbia/Snake salmon are aggregating or migrating through coastal waters.

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