Author Archives: scottveirs

Ken Balcomb: SRKW demographic update

First there was Mike Bigg.  Early census effort started in 1976 and was motivated by concern about the captures for aquariums which took out about 50 animals.  1976-1984 habitat use was very similar to current critical habitat!  Most encounters May-October, with J pod present year-round.

Ken and Mike worried about how to ID babies.  They discovered that eye patches were unique.  J44 has a nice Moby Dick patch and has been seen with J 17 (possible mother).   J45 was first seen by Jeanne.

The population was about 70 when they started and got up to close to 100 before declining in the 1990s.  Ken took news of the decline to the Hawaii meeting with the “God Squad.”

In 2006, the matrilines had about 24 reproductive-aged females.  Looking forward 5-10 years, there is potential for about 19 babies, but about 40% will die as neonates.  So there is potential for growth, but you have to feed them and there is the question of rising concentrations of PCBs and PBDEs, etc.

L60 died at Long Beach, WA in April, 2002, at age 30.  Her ovaries (corpus albicans) indicated she had been pregnant about 7 times, though she had only two surviving offspring.  Was she too starved to support those babies, or were contaminants the culprit?

Both L and K pod have been sighted as far south as Monterrey during the winter.  J pod has been seen as far south as Newport, Oregon.  John Ford detected J pod at N end of Queen Charlottes and Spong has reported southern residents returning through Johnstone Strait.

Ford et al, 2005 showed that decline in both N and S residents was correlated with W Coast Chinook stocks.  Every day from May to October, there were 70 seiners working the west side of San Juan Island.  595,000 Chinook were caught each year back then and that’s about what we need to feed the southern residents.

We need to recover Chinook stocks in the Pacific Northwest if we want to keep southern residents!

Killer whale regulation enforcement panel

Alan Wolf, NOAA; Larry Palke, Fisheries and Oceans, Canada; Stefan Beckman, Fisheries and Oceans, Canada; Russ Mullins, WDFW

There is not currently any permitting process, but one is under consideration in Canada…

Russ: on our 30+ patrols per summer, most infractions are by private recreational boaters. In 2008, there were two commercial infractions and ~50 warnings. We’ll be emphasizing education of recreational vessels in 2009 and taking more aggressive approach over next couple years.  In WA, there is a whale watching leaflet and info in boater ed documents (i.e. Marine Area 7 sport fishing regulations) now, plus some questions on the exam relate to orca watching.

Larry: In Canada in 2008, only one crab boat was cited; we warned ~50 recreational boaters and emphasized is on education.  This summer we’ll be focusing more on recreational vessels.  We attend boat shows and hand out be whale wise guidelines.  As of Sept 15, 2009, there will be a new requirement for boaters to have a card that documents some boater education.

Alan:5 undercover agents were sent out in 2008 on commercial vessels; no complaints arose (except regarding recreational boaters)

Stefan: Relationship is good between enforcement and operators; violations of regulations are declining.


  • Canada, Federal penalty is $100k (repeat offenses get up to $500k and 2yrs in jail); looking at “careless operation of a vessel” angle in 2009
  • NOAA, Civil (max $25k and criminal statues (max $100k, seizure of vessel))


  • location is important
  • description of operator/vessel
  • photo and video documentation

U.S.+Canada recovery process, U.S. whale watching industry

10:00 Lynne Barre, NWFSC

  • Critical habitat can be modified.  A future step is designating habitat outside of the inland waters of WA.
  • Recovery plan implementation was started in 2003, well before the endangered listing in 2005.
  • Proposed regulations are under review… no date given for when rule-making will occur.
  • Consultations regarding potential impacts result in letters of concurrence or biological opinions; records are kept in public on their website…
  • Prevention of oil spills is a high priority (WDFW is adding the Oct 2007 workshop‘s hazing plan as appendix to the Northwest response plan)

10:30 Paul Cottrell, DFO (taking over for Marilyn Joyce as of last October, was originally a marine mammal biologist)

  • Canadian recovery strategy encompasses both northern and southern residents; transients (300-400 in population, rising with growing pinniped population) are listed as threatened and a recovery strategy is forthcoming; offshores are currently listed as species of concern, but are under review for upgrading to threatened.
  • Southern residents were originally listed under COSEWIC (coh-see-wick); Recovery strategy was published on the SARA Registry in March , 2008
  • Considering general regulations in addition to 100m approach limits; SARA has specific prohibitions
  • Marine Mammal Response Network (headed by Lisa Stavings) is doing a series of workshops and has monitoring handouts for volunteers
  • There is a potential mechanism for licensing (schedule 6), however it is not an option in the regulations that are being amended.  If industry continues to grow, a licensing schedule could be implemented through a public review process.

Suzanne Russell, NMFS/NWFSC, “People of the U.S. Whale Watching Industry”

  • Goal is to collect baseline data on the socio-cultural nature of the industry
  • Started with a voluntary survey in June-November, 2006 (112 returns, 64% response rate); supplemented with interviews and field observations
  • Analyzed overall, and broken down by sector (motorized vessel, kayak, land); further broken down by motorized vessel type (Tiers based on USCG regs — >65′ inspected, <65′ inspected multiple vessels, <65′ inspected single vessel, etc), as well as geographically (mainland vs island), and in some cases non/owner.
  • Results (details coming in a forthcoming report)
  1. Demographics: majority in industry are >45y and have some college education; biggest boats are all based on mainland; owners have typically been in industry the longest are predominanty in kayak, island groups, while land-based portion of industry is relatively new.
  2. Big boats operate out of mainland and operate more tours overall; more multiple daily trips are made out of Islands.
  3. Boats have become bigger and faster over the years; companies have expanded to other wildlife (beyond orcas).
  4. Effects on the local community: many responses emphasized educational effect (e.g. taking school groups out)

NOAA finds SRKWs offshore on day 4!

Just got an exciting email from Dr. Marla Holt, bioacoustician on the NOAA cruise that aims to understand how the southern residents utilize the outer coast of Washington. They departed last Monday and are scheduled to return April 9th, making for a significantly longer cruise than in past years.

Since big ocean-going research boats like the McArthur II cost on the order of $20k/day, it’s GREAT news that they have not only encountered L pod, but also obtained some information about what the orcas are eating. It will be fascinating to learn which fish they are consuming on the outer coast at this time of year…

NOAA R/V McArthur II

Marla writes:

Things are going really well.  We found L pod on the 4th day at sea!!! The NOAA ship McArthur II detected all of L pod just north of Grays Harbor, WA in the middle of the night last night (~0330 March 26). We lost them acoustically but then found them visually and acoustically in the mid morning and were able to deploy the small boat (RHIB).  The whales were spread out and traveling south most of the day.  Brad and the rest of the crew got photo IDs and some prey samples, stayed with them day until 1830.  Last visual sighting was at dusk when they grouped back up and became quiet. Hopefully we will stick with them through the night to get more samples tomorrow (3/27).

Congrats to Brad, Marla, and the rest of salty surveillance team!

Earth Hour

Here’s an opportunity to act (at least symbolically) for resident orca and WA salmon by reducing electricity (mostly from hydropower) demand for a special hour: 8:30-9:30pm this Saturday, March 28.

On March 28 you can VOTE EARTH by switching off your lights for one hour.
The results of the election are being presented at the Global Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen 2009. We want one billion votes for Earth, to tell world leaders that we have to take action against global warming.
Switch off your lights for one hour March 28th, 8:30-9:30 pm.

Columbia River sea otters after 100y?

Interesting that the WA sea otters (a transient orca food source?) may be expanding their range from the NW coast of the Olympic Peninsula. Though the Salish Sea habitat is certainly appropriate for them, they apparently are rarely seen east of a line between Port Angeles and Race Rocks. Reference
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The reappearance of sea otters this month at the mouth of the Columbia River after an absence of perhaps as much as a century is heart-warming news in its own regard and also powerfully symbolic.
Russian hunters, eventually joined by Britons, Canadians and Americans, decimated a West Coast sea otter population once estimated at up to 300,000. Native people were drafted into the international trade, trading pelts for western goods, until only 1,000 to 2,000 otters remained when the slaughter finally was banned in 1911.
Even in the remote Aleutian Islands, sea otters have taken four steps forward and three steps back, with the population plunging from as many as 100,000 in the 1980s to around 6,000 by the year 2000. This may be because orcas shifted to preying on otters after environmental-related declines in their preferred menu items – seals and sea lions.
A self-sustaining population of otters has been reestablished along the northern Olympic Peninsula and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
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Who gets what % of the salmon?

This article is the first I’ve seen that juxtaposes salmon consumption rates of recreational fishers with a non-human predator, in this case, the CA sea lions. It will be an interesting exercise to see what factors reduce the runs on the various rivers of the West Coast where SRKWs forage annually. At 100kg of salmon per day per orca, is it possible SRKWs as an endangered species should have a more prominent seat in the annual development of salmon fisheries management policy?
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No more free lunch on the Columbia
Tuesday March 03, 2009, 3:25 PM
The leading argument against the killing of California sea lions that feast on endangered fish at Bonneville Dam is that the lions eat a “mere 4 percent” of the salmon and steelhead swimming upstream to spawn.
That figure is based on the share of all the salmon passing through Bonneville over an entire year. In fact, the sea lions are at Bonneville only a few months, and their impact is much greater on those stocks migrating in spring. NOAA Fisheries has estimated that removing 85 sea lions a year for two years could increase the returns of listed spring chinook and steelhead by up to 12.5 percent, a much higher return than the region would get from expensive improvements at dams.
Sport fishermen targeting hatchery fish, not endangered wild species, are allowed about 13 percent of the salmon run. Sport fishing, meanwhile, provides hundreds of millions of dollars in annual economic benefit
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Snake River Salmon on KUOW

The most prominent appeal in this discussion was whether we can move away from litigation and towards more collaborative processes to restore the wild populations of Columbia salmon and steelhead. The agreement between 3 tribes and federal agencies (the “Columbia Basin Accords”) may be a step in the right direction. However, many feel the 2008 biological opinion (“BiOp”) is not acceptable and that the Federal agencies need to have their feet held to the fire (by Judge Redden, potentially .

The speakers made a strong suggestion that salmon fisheries will be closed again this year south of Cape Falcon. This is due to the poor condition of the Sacramento River runs, but will also presumably help protect runs from the Kalamath, Rogue, and OR coastal rivers. Ocean conditions north of Cape Falcon are looking about the same as last year (moderate) and we may have a stronger Columbia Coho year. The Pacific Fisheries Management Commission will meet next week; folks will probably start fishing around May 1.

Rob of Trout Unlimited was clearest: There are 1000s of miles of good habitat in the Snake River Basin (NE Oregon and Idaho). If you took down the 4 lower Snake River dams, you would enable wild runs to access that potential salmon refuge. We haven’t had a regional dialogue about realistic solutions to the goal of salmon recovery (to which most parties agree)! The courtroom encourages battle lines, not a serious, creative problem-solving approach. At the end of the day, the only way to have sustainable runs is to have access to habitat in healthy river systems. We’ve spent about $8B on salmonid recovery since initial listing in 1991 and the long-term trends are generally pointing towards extinction of wild runs.

Jerry (42′ salmon trolling fisherman) was also well-spoken: Rail is a good competitor for transport which is the main service provided by the lower Snake River. A problem with 400ton barges is that smaller wheat farmers must aggregate their product and can only get commodity prices. Rail cars could allow an organic wheat farmer to differentiate their product. This year we’re still looking at survival. Eight years from now I hope we’ll have honest commitments from the hydrosystem (the BPA and Army Corp have been too insulated by past administrations). Recent biological opinions have downplayed the impacts of the hydrosystem and have especially avoided the elephant in the room: the lower Snake dams.

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Salmon and the Snake River Dams

03/05/2009 at 9:00 a.m.

Snorkeler with salmon, 1999. Photo by Seattle Municipal Archives.

Snorkeler with salmon, 1999. Photo by Seattle Municipal Archives.

KUOW 94.9 FM



Phil Rigdon is the Director of Natural Resources for the Yakima Nation. He is also a member of the Yakima tribe.
Rob Masonis is Vice President of Western Conservation of Trout Unlimited. He is a sport fisherman.
Stuart Ellis is on the habitat committee of the Pacific Fisheries Management Council. He works for the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission.
Jeremy Brown is a commercial fisherman from Bellingham.
Are salmon on the verge of being moved? Tomorrow, an Oregon federal judge will hear a case which may decide the fate of the salmon runs of the Columbia and Snake River basins.
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NW salmon forecasts and fisheries dates

Here is an excerpt from yesterday’s WDFW announcement that describes the forecasts for many Columbia and Salish Sea salmon runs.  To Pat’s credit, there was a quick correction to a painful error (suggesting that adipose-clipped fish weren’t hatchery fish).  In conjunction with the process-map in the previous post, these dates should help us orca-advocates be in the right place at the right time to “speak for the whale’s” share of NW salmon…  Better speak now before they start shooting orcas like the CA sea lions lounging at the Bonneville debacle…

Preseason salmon forecasts developed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and treaty Indian tribes, were released today at a public meeting in Olympia.

Forecasts for chinook, coho, sockeye, pink and chum salmon mark the starting point for developing 2009 salmon-fishing seasons in Puget Sound, the Columbia River and Washington coastal areas. Fishery managers have scheduled a series of public meetings through March before finalizing fishing seasons in early April.

While several salmon runs are up this year, fishery managers still face a number of challenges in crafting fisheries that meet conservation goals for weak salmon stocks, said Phil Anderson, WDFW’s interim director.

“Conservation of wild fish will continue to be our top priority,” Anderson said. “We will work hard with tribal co-managers and our constituents to create fishing opportunities for hatchery fish while ensuring that we are successful in meeting conservation objectives for wild fish populations.”

One constraining stock this year is the Bonneville Pool hatchery fall chinook run, a major contributor to Washington’s coastal fisheries. Although the overall return of Columbia River fall chinook is forecasted to be higher than last year, catch quotas for chinook in the river and the ocean will likely be low because of the poor Bonneville Pool return and restrictions needed to protect wild salmon listed under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).

While salmon forecasts are up overall in the Columbia River, coho and chinook returns to Puget Sound are expected to be slightly down this year.

A few individual Puget Sound coho stocks, including the Skagit and Stillaguamish, are expected to return at low levels and will require additional protective measures this summer, said Pat Pattillo, salmon policy coordinator for WDFW. The overall summer/fall chinook forecast for Puget Sound, where wild chinook salmon are listed for protection under the federal ESA, is 222,000 fish, a slight decrease from last year’s forecast.

“It’s important that we continue working to recover and protect wild salmon populations in Puget Sound,” Pattillo said. “One management tool we can use that helps with those recovery efforts and allows us to provide meaningful recreational fishing opportunities is mark-selective fisheries.”

In the last two years, WDFW has added several recreational mark-selective fisheries for hatchery chinook in Puget Sound. These fisheries allow anglers to catch and keep abundant hatchery salmon – marked with a missing adipose fin – but require that they release wild salmon.

Pattillo said consideration of additional mark-selective fisheries for hatchery chinook in Puget Sound, as well as in the ocean, will be on the agenda during this year’s North of Falcon meetings.

A bright spot for Puget Sound this year is the pink salmon run. More than 5.1 million pink salmon are expected back to Puget Sound streams this summer, nearly 2 million more fish than forecasted in 2007. The smallest of the Pacific salmon species, the majority of pink salmon return to Washington’s waters only in odd-numbered years.

Another strong fall chum salmon return also is forecasted for Hood Canal and other areas of Puget Sound, where the run is expected to total nearly 915,000 fish. But a Lake Washington sockeye fishery is unlikely this year. The sockeye forecast is about 20,000, well below the minimum return of 350,000 sockeye needed to consider opening a recreational fishery in the lake.

Meanwhile, coho returns to several coastal rivers, including the Hoh and Quillayute, are expected to be up this year, Pattillo said.

State, tribal and federal fishery managers will meet March 8-13 in SeaTac with the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) to develop options for this year’s commercial and recreational ocean chinook and coho salmon fisheries. The PFMC establishes fishing seasons in ocean waters off the Pacific Coast.

Seven additional public meetings have been scheduled in March to discuss regional fisheries issues. Input from these regional discussions will be considered as the season-setting process moves into the “North of Falcon” and PFMC meetings, which will determine the final 2009 salmon seasons. The meetings are set for:

* March 4 – Grays Harbor fisheries discussion, 6 p.m.-8 p.m., Montesano City Hall, 112 N. Main St., Montesano.
* March 5 – Willapa Bay fisheries discussion, 6 p.m.-8 p.m., Raymond Elks Lodge, 326 Third St., Raymond.
* March 11 – Puget Sound commercial fisheries discussion, 10 a.m.-noon, WDFW Mill Creek Office, 16018 Mill Creek Blvd., Mill Creek.
* March 11 – Puget Sound recreational fisheries discussion, 6 p.m.-8 p.m., WDFW Mill Creek Office, 16018 Mill Creek Blvd., Mill Creek.
* March 16 – Columbia River fisheries discussion, 9 a.m.-3 p.m., Vancouver Water Resources Education Center, 4600 S.E. Columbia Way, Vancouver, Wash.
* March 19 – Final Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay fisheries meeting, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Room 172 of the Natural Resources Building, 1111 Washington St. S.E., Olympia.
* March 19 – North of Falcon salmon fisheries discussion, 6 p.m.-9 p.m. Benton PUD, 2721 W. 10th Ave., Kennewick.

Two public North of Falcon meetings, which involve planning fishing seasons for Washington’s waters, including Puget Sound, also will take place in March. The first meeting is scheduled March 17 at the Lacey Community Center, and the second meeting is scheduled March 31 at the Lynwood Embassy Suites. Both meetings will begin at 9 a.m.

The PFMC is expected to adopt the final ocean fishing seasons and harvest levels at its April 4-9 meeting in Millbrae, Calif. The 2009 salmon fisheries package for Washington’s inside waters will be completed by the state and tribal co-managers during the PFMC’s April meeting.

Preseason salmon forecasts, proposed fishing options and details on upcoming meetings will be posted as they become available on WDFW’s North of Falcon website at .

A map for including killer whales in NW fisheries managment

Just happened upon this nice synopsis of how WDFW views the various processes by which fishing harvests are governed in the Pacific Northwest. For me, this helps clarify which processes we killer whale advocates could influence to bolster the number of salmon and other fish that are available to feed the southern residents. As usual, the words “orca” or “whale” isn’t present in this document, though the may soon be included next to the reference to the ESA…
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Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

How salmon fishing seasons are set
Harvest rules built on foundation of
scientific surveys, computer models, joint deliberations
Managing Washington’s fisheries – in particular salmon – is acknowledged as one of the most complex natural resource challenges in the country, due to the interplay of biological and geographical factors.
The annual process of setting scientifically sound fishing seasons begins each year with a pre-season forecast of the abundance of various individual fish stocks.
After the biological information and data gleaned from coded wire tags is agreed to by the co-managers, they are assembled into a computer model that offers a snapshot of an upcoming season’s fishery under various regulation options. The results from these computer simulations are then compared to conservation goals, obligations under U.S.- Canada treaties, allocations for tribes and protection requirements for some wild fish population under the Endangered Species Act.
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