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.