Monthly Archives: September 2009

NOAA vessel rules rejected at Seattle Aquarium

Comment crowd and Lynne

Audience, Lynne, and the big tank of fish

<More photos>

Just back from the meeting in which NOAA invited the public to comment on the proposed rules for vessel-orca interactions.  Before a captive audience of Pacific salmon and rockfish, the 2.5 hours of public comment was dominated by the commercial whale watch, recreational and commercial fishing, and kayaking industries.  It seems like a repeat of the Anacortes meeting, described in this Anacortes Now article, except that tonight NOAA’s facilitator kept nearly everyone abiding by the ground rules.

Overall, there were strong objections to the entire suite of alternatives — from the 200 yard viewing distance to the no-go zone.  People for Puget Sound went on record saying that a no-go zone was a step too far.  And Ken Balcomb voted for no action.

I was left with a profound disappointment that so many felt so unfairly burdened by the proposed rules.  If the people who most intimately and consistently share the southern resident’s habitat aren’t willing to make a sacrifice to preserve the basis of their livelihoods, how can we expect the public to act selflessly for our regional icons: the orca and the salmon?

From the captains and operators of the whale watch fleet I heard dire forecasts of impending economic doom, though they would be unlimited by NOAA in 100’s of square kilometers of critical habitat, including areas that might conceivably have been included in a no-go zone: Hein and Middle banks and the rest of the west side of San Juan Island.  From the recreational and commercial fishers I heard that the west side of San Juan Island is sacred salmon fishing ground, though NOAA did not ban them from Eagle Point, Salmon Bank, or Turn Point.  And from the kayakers I heard dismay, when I can imagine trips around Henry Island or through Cattle Pass that offer adventure and orca-viewing on par with what the central west side offers.  While some speakers had delved deeply into the text of the rules and the scientific literature, many made specious assertions about the underlying science and countered with unconvincing anecdotes and generic concerns about correlation not implying causation.

I failed to finish my comments in the allotted 2 minutes.  Those that I fit in are below within the notes I took during the comment session.  But my closing thought was this: What could we humans accomplish on the tough problems of salmon and pollutants if we first succeeded in sacrificing together to reduce this most-tractable extinction risk — vessel interactions.  On a night when I expected suggestions for how to do more to help the whales, I heard only selfish whining.

For those unfamiliar with the extant and proposed regulations, here is a wiki of rules guiding vessel interactions with killer whales.

Live blog from Seattle Aquarium

These are rough personal notes (not quotes!) taken on the fly during the meeting.  NOAA has the complete record.

19:15 Overview by Lynne Barre

19:30 Public comment begins

19:31 CCA opposes impacts on recreational fishers

19:34 Bob Franks, commercial fisher from Gig Harbor: In 1989, there were 72000 boat hours/year and SRKWs were fine.  Now we’re at 1200 boat hours/year and SRKWs are in decline.  Where are the data that implicate commercial fishing vessels?

19:37 Frank, Fidalgo Chapter Puget Sound Anglers: 1/2 mi standoff will have dire consequences for recreational fishers.

19:39: VP of Puget Sound Anglers: While fishing on west side I’ve seen orcas foraging all around us without concern.  Sport fishers are the eyes and ears of the salt water.  They carry on as if we’re not there.  Recreational fishing has no adverse impact on these wonderful marine mammals.

19:42: Ken Balcomb: We noted KWs swam down sound past all fishing vessels twice per year and came down for Sea Fair (4000 boats).  In all these years there has been no evidence of a boat hitting a killer whale.  “My vote is that we take no action, alternative one.  I think we should collectively shelve it somewhere between Alice in Wonderland and Don Quixote.”

19:45: Mark Anderson: There is a scientific consensus that the orcas are starving.  The three legged stool has only two legs now: lack of fish and vessel interactions.  UW study showed mortality goes up with boat concentration.  Economic impact is likely bigger than in the rule’s analysis.

19:48: Bob Keiko, Purse Seine industry rep, Fraser sockeye/pink fishery rep: This no-go zone is a prime fishing area.  Fraser Pink and sockeye migrate through the Straits and their first land impact is the west side of San Juan Island.  The commercial fishery is limited to ~5 days/year.  It’s wrong to assume that the fleet can just go somewhere else to fish.

19:51: Larry Carpenter, owns 2 boat dealerships, spent 1000s of days on west side San Juan Island.  Chinook returns are adequate for fishers and killer whales due to 30% reduction of Canadian catch on outer Vancouver Island.  Foraging and pollution conditions are improving.  We in the recreational fishery are a huge part of the solution.

19:53: Roland Skogley, citizen:

19:56: Cedric Towers, Vancouver Whale Watch operating 7mo/yr; Pacific Whale Watch Association wants to stick with 100yd global standard.  Educational value from professional naturalists is lost at 150-250 yards.  We’ve been experimenting all summer.  I’m going to be out of business.  Customers say they aren’t interested in watching from 200 or 250 yards.

19:59: Speaker for the sea kayak fleet: The no-go zone eliminates nearly all kayakers from west side San Juan Island.  Kayaks are the only silent vessels and our viewing is comparatively brief.

20:00 Rick Thompson, Canadian whale watcher for 10 yrs, 30 yrs commercial fisherman: I don’t see many changes and they seem well-fed this year by the spring returns of this year and last.  My company has 25 people and our oral survey suggests 80% of our customers would forego whale watching at >100yds.

20:03: Ann individual kayaker

20:05: Kayaker for 17years west side San Juan Island: Ban of kayaking isn’t fair

20:11 Rain, Seattle resident

20:17 Peter, whale watch operator: This is onerous.  We educate 10’s of 1000s of people per year.

20:18 Troy, 30 years fished west coast, fought rock cod fishery closures in CA: you’ve managed to pull groups together that don’t like each other.

20:21 People for Puget Sound: restoration of salmon run, reduction of toxins, countering of sonar-like noises.  We agree that vessels are a risk.  We support 200yd, but think no-go zone is too far.  Where is the orca in the orca recovery plan?

20:23 Anna Hall biologist and Prince of Whales captain for 15 years: I’m in full support of species protection as well as the public education that happens on the whale watching boats.   Consider the PWWA proposal.

20:26 Eric Shore, owns Anacortes Kayak Tours and has 20yrs on west side of SJI, about 1000 days with whales.

20:27 Alan McGilvry: “The science is anecdotal, it’s not reproducible, and doesn’t follow scientficic method.  The whale watch industry is part of the solution and we’re here for you.”

20:30: Another whale watch Captain for 25yrs in Floriday, Hawaii, NW 129 people/day

20:32: Dan Kukat, owner of Springtime Charters for 15yrs, charter fishing for 20years.  Canada commends U.S. fishery conservation: Unless there’s food on the table, none of us can live.  Basic economics and passenger testimony say these rules will raise impacts on killer whales by diminishing public education and awareness of the real risks.

20:35 Ken, Seattle Resident: Gas works park contamination sample.

20:36: 20yrs boating interactions mostly with J pod: J pod increase since 1970s.

20:38: Works for Clipper Navigation and long career on water: Please don’t restrict others from seeing them up close.

20:39: Darrel Bryan, CEO Victoria Clipper: How were oral comments in Anacortes not fully recorded?  Why was procedure changed during the meeting?  Did NOAA leave the rule open to legal challenge by altering the rule-making process?

20:42: 47 yr WA resident, sport fisher on west side every summer: What scientific proof do you have that killer whales are not getting enough food on this route.  Orcas are operating in no-go zone because that’s where the fish are.  Pinks come in on in-coming tide and are often scattered by killer whales.  What impediment do few sports fishermen pose if orcas can operate during commercial openings.  In 1962 there were no salt-water fishing licenses!  We have less fish than in 1962 and all we have is more and more restrictions.

20:45 James Dale, 5 star whale watching: I’ve supported recovery planning process for 15 yrs, but am concerned we’re going to get distracted by these regulations from truly meaningful actions.

20:47 Dan, Save our wild salmon

20:51 Shane Aagergard, owns Island Adventures

20:54 Angler expert: economic impacts on recreational fishers may be underestimated

10:56 West side resident: supports 200yd, why is acoustic

10:58 Fred Felleman, west side home-owner and orca biologist: Now there are more boats than whales.  Clearly marine education on the water is a contributor.  Congratulations to NOAA on attracting substantially more public comment than in recent Navy EIS comment meetings.  Go slow, not no go.

21:08 Peter Henke: Enforcement is lacking and enforcement boats have been wreckless.

21:21 WW operator: I’m torn because sometimes it is a zoo out there, but I see a lot of good educational value.

21:23 Annette sea kayaker

21:25 Commercial non-treaty fisherman supports access to no-go zone

21:25 Kowichan Bay operator:

21:27: Peter, Westcott Bay resident: supports all aspects of rule; easy to document inappropriate

21:31; Shane Elwin: Illegal to pursue so supports limits on commercial whale watching.  Relax rules re kayaking.

21:34: Sarah sea kayak guide:

21:36 Thomas Star, Water Trail: We need better enforcement.

21:38: Derrick Mitchell, kayaker

About 5 others, including me.

~21:46 Scott Veirs, WA resident for 15 yr, PhD oceanography, 5 seasons running Beam Reach, co-author of “KWs Speak up”: Will provide written comments, but want to speak as father of 2 young children who love the orcas.  Who is speaking conservatively for the whales?  Whale watch and fishing interests are clearly much better organized than orca-advocacy community!  Why not support a refuge for SRKWs?  Though Beam Reach may be impacted as a business, I support 200 yard limit and no-go zone.  In fact, I ask why the no-go zone does not include the Eagle Point to Salmon Bank, a region which many consider a foraging hot spot along the west side. BR has not joined the PWWA because the Association does not strike an acceptable balance between (what appears tonight like) economic greed and ecological value, and does not take a precautionary approach.

21:53: Finished with public comment.

SRKWs need priority in chinook managment

In a bit of press coverage related to a new publication by John Ford et al. we orca advocates are again getting the confusing message: southern residents need a place at the table where Chinook salmon management is derived, but it’s sure to be nearly impossible to represent them.  I say it’s time to stop nay-saying and start representing!

In yesterday’s Oregonian, Ford is quoted as saying: “It’s going to be important to work with the salmon managers to make sure there are enough chinook for the whales.”

But then a representative of WDFW (the government agency that sets sports fishing regulations for Washington State) sets up the conundrum:

Gary Wiles, a wildlife biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, says Ford’s study provides strong evidence that the survival of the killer whales depends largely on restoring chinook salmon runs.

“The case they make here is quite compelling,” says Wiles, co-author of the federal recovery plan for the endangered southern resident whales. But he says figuring out a way to divide up the fish among so many interests won’t be easy.

“With the overall decline of chinook stocks,” he says. “it really becomes a problematic thing to throw into the mix.”

The prudent thing seems to be to find ways to alter commercial and recreational fishing by humans to optimize the southern residents ability to feed themselves during the winter months. This might be as simplistic as fishing bans (they should at least be on the table if we’re discussing the extinction of regional icons), but could probably be much more innovative and acceptable to human fishers. And as an Oregon fisherman points out, there’s still room for orca and salmon advocates to collaborate to recovery Chinook by problem-solving around the other H’s: hatcheries, hydropower, habitat, heat, and history.

Darus Peake, a fisherman in Garibaldi and chairman of the Oregon Salmon Commission, says bans on fishing are politically easy, but less effective than removing dams, cleaning up decades of pollution and stopping logging and development along rivers.

“While I feel for the plight of the orcas, we’re both in this together,” Peake says. “Until we as a society go back and fix these rivers where the problem starts, we’re all in trouble.”

Fishery managers say figuring out how to allocate salmon to the killer whales would be enormously complicated. Because the whales prey on chinook that spawn in rivers from California to British Columbia, decisions would have to include two countries, numerous tribes with treaty rights to the salmon, as well as commercial and sport fishermen.

Obvious calls to action I’ve seen recently:

  1. Attend the Wild Salmon Rally in Seattle on Wed 9/30
  2. (This is conveniently right before the 7-9pm public comment mtg re the proposed rules for orca-boat interactions at the Seattle Aquarium.)

  3. Comment on recreational fishing regs proposed for 2010-2012 In person mtgs around the State Sep 28 – Oct 13; Written comments by Dec 1.

Ground-down teeth imply offshore KWs eat sharks

Offshore Killer Whale Teeth

Here is a great close-up of the teeth of an offshore killer whale from Rachael Griffin’s blog.  Can you imagine the orca-shark battles and chewing that might have caused such incredible wear on so many huge teeth?!

Slippery Snake: Too little too late?

This article presents some great factoids for the orca conservationist.  These are my favorite excerpts:

The total spent by the agency [BPA] since 1978 is about $12 billion. That spending shows up in your power bill. About 15 percent, or $11, of the average Nortwesterner’s monthly electricity charges goes towards salmon, according to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, which develops the regional strategy to balance fish and power needs.

Over 20 years ago, the council set a goal of doubling the number of salmon and steelhead entering the mouth of the Columbia River from the 2.5 million it was then to 5 million, still only a third to a half of historic runs, estimated at 10 to 15 million.

But the region is no closer to that goal now. And there is still no monitoring program in place to tell whether all the money we’re spending and work we’re doing is helping.

More recently the council set a deadline for doubling fish runs of 2025, and they are working on developing a uniform monitoring plan for fish across the basin.

It’s flabbergasting to read of the Council’s failure to meet such moderate long-term goals, and then re-setting them!  These people should be shamed along with responsible actors at the BPA and Army Corp.

And in the end, it all still sounds like small peanuts.  I remain unconvinced that many of the Columbia and Snake River dams are worth keeping around.  Give a cogent analysis of the costs/benefits of the dams and I’ll bet you that if the power/salmon/orca connection was made loud and clear to citizens of western Washington citizens, a majority would opt to pay much more to preserve our regional icons and reputation natural beauty and abundance.

Take last minute action: write to ex-WA-Governor Gary Locke, now Secretary of the Interior.

OR salmon and climate change

I’m not convinced it is worth worrying much about climate change and northwest salmon when there is so much we can do to assist their recovery on shorter time scales and locally.  While the effects on water temperature and runoff could be huge, I’ll place my bet on the oceanographic variations exerting the strongest control on salmon through primary productivity in the NE Pacific.

Oregon Public BroadcastingElk River

The Future Of Salmon In Denmark

The emerald green Elk River winds down from the Coast range mountains, past tree-shaded banks. And riding the Elk’s currents to the sea are Chinook salmon.

Wild Chinook, and Chinook from the Elk River Hatchery.


Bill Peterson: “If there’s one thing we can expect from climate change, it’s variability. If there’s more variability, how can you predict anything? And the fact is, that you can’t.”

Bill Peterson says there are other climate cycles – like one called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, which cycles from warm phases to cold phases about every 20-25 years.

At least – until recently.

Bill Peterson: “So we’ve had three phase changes from warm to cold, warm cold, cold warm in the last ten years. Which has never happened before. This is kind of what you’d expect from climate change, and if salmon have to deal with this on a year by year basis, they’re in big trouble. If you think they can maybe adapt to this, there’s no way. It’s really kind of sad.”

Robin Crisler says salmon are good at adapting to change.

Robin Crisler: “I cite the example of the Toutle River off of Mt. St. Helens – a complete disaster, and the river was ruined, but today, within far less than our lifetimes there are salmon and steelhead in the Toutle River again.”

Bill Peterson wants to believe.

Bill Peterson: “They’re tough, they’re resilient, and if there’s an animal that’s going to survive and make it in climate change, it’s the salmon. I mean they will find a way. I really firmly believe that. But we’ve got to help them any way we can. And hope for the best.”