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First of three meetings tonight on National Marine Fisheries Service's proposed no-go zone

Two kayakers rest in a kelp bed off Lime Kiln Point, June 30. This area is part of a boat and kayak no-go zone proposed by the National Marine Fisheries Service to put more distance between vessels and killer whales. - Molly Neely-Walker
Two kayakers rest in a kelp bed off Lime Kiln Point, June 30. This area is part of a boat and kayak no-go zone proposed by the National Marine Fisheries Service to put more distance between vessels and killer whales.
— image credit: Molly Neely-Walker

The first of three public meetings is scheduled today on the National Marine Fisheries Service's proposal to put more distance between vessels and the Southern Resident killer whales.

The meeting is tonight, 7-9 p.m., in the Pier One Main Warehouse, 100 Commercial Ave., Anacortes.

Other meetings are scheduled Sept. 30, 7-9 p.m., at the Seattle Aquarium, Pier 59, Seattle; Oct. 5, 7-9 p.m., in the San Juan Island Grange Hall, Friday Harbor.

The deadline for written or electronic comments is Oct. 27. By e-mail, write orca.plan@noaa.gov. By mail, write Assistant Regional Administrator, Protected Resources Division, Northwest Regional Office, National Marine Fisheries Service, 7600 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115.

The draft Environmental Assessment and other supporting documents are available on Regulations.gov and the NMFSNorthwest Region Web site, www.nwr.noaa.gov

The National Marine Fisheries Service proposes an off-limits zone of a half-mile out along the west side of San Juan Island — from Mitchell Point to Eagle Point — to provide a larger buffer between boaters, kayakers and killer whales.

The zone would be off-limits to most boaters and kayakers from May 1 to Sept. 30. Vessels would be prohibited from approaching within 200 yards of the killer whales, and would be prohibited from intercepting or blocking the paths of the whales.

Exceptions: actively fishing commercial boats, cargo ships in established shipping lanes, government and research vessels, and land owners going to private property along the affected shoreline.

Supporters of the proposal say the distance is necessary to protect the whales from interference from boats. Opponents say the proposal is overkill, that existing regulations are sufficient if enforced, and that the San Juans would lose possibly millions of dollars in revenue from visitors attracted to the islands for marine-related activities. They also question the impacts of kayaks on killer whales.

NMFS listed the Southern Resident killer whales as endangered under the Endangered Species Act on Nov. 18, 2005. The agency identified vessel effects, including physical interference and sound, as a potential contributing factor in the population's decline.

Read the recovery plan here.

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