We should enforce existing law regarding orcas and vessel traffic | Editorial

The proposed half-mile no-go zone off the west side of San Juan Island is a flawed proposal.

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.

Sounds great. Now, here’s our problem.

There is an adequate law on the books now: It is against local and state law to approach within 100 yards of a killer whale. It is against the law to intercept or block the path of a killer whale. But enforcement of the law is not adequately funded. If there were a regular law enforcement presence on the waters of the west side, the violations we hear of today would vanish. If we can’t adequately enforce an existing law, how can we expect to adequately enforce a half-mile no-go zone? A law without enforcement is a shallow law.

The resident orcas are here mostly from May to September, hunting once-abundant salmon runs. Today, that prey is depleted. A major humpy run is passing through the San Juans right now, but if you’re an orca you have to catch more humpies than you do a massive chinook. And you have to do it in waters that are polluted. Those problems extend beyond a half-mile boundary, and they extend beyond May to September. Those problems are regional and they are year-round.

We need to enforce the laws we have now. We need to promote alternative ways to watch the whales and other wildlife. We need to keep improving salmon habitat. We need to keep cleaning up the sea.

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