Letters to the Editor

Limits on Chinook harvest, not boats, might better help the orcas | Letters

I read with interest Mr. Anderson’s guest editorial about orca protection.

I found its tone (“No one can deny . . . . “No one can deny . . . .) disconcerting, and the claim that “whale watch boats are directly responsible for the death of our local whales” startling.

As a result, I read the Federal Register notice from NOAA that he cited. As it happens, the notice says nothing of the sort.

What it does say — for 20-some pages — is that there is a considerable body of speculation about what might be contributing to the population decline of the orcas (The science is clearly not “done.”).

NOAA concludes, however, that imposing on all vessels in our area (motorized or not) a whale approach limit of 200 yards and a positioning prohibition of 400 yards (prohibiting “parking” in the path of approaching whales), makes sense. Neither of those seem particularly unreasonable.

(What is curious is that the same NOAA rule provides a blanket exemption for (1) government vessels; (2) commercial shipping and tugboats; and (3) commercial or treaty Indian fishing boats.)

Mr. Anderson argues that these prohibitions will make little or no difference, due to lack of enforcement, and proposes a no-go zone just for whale-watching boats. Yet, the notice states that the overwhelming majority of violations of existing limits are committed by private boats and Canadian vessels, so it’s unclear why an additional limit on U.S. whale-watching boats would much matter.

The NOAA notice does adopt the premise that motorized boats distract the whales from feeding on scarce Chinook salmon, however, and as Mr. Anderson says, the “Chinook salmon counts matter most.”

This point is, indeed, indisputable; the science on this is, indeed, “done.”

So the real question is — given the endangered status of both orcas and Chinook — why are the regulatory agencies charged with protecting them allowing commercial and tribal fishing that takes hundreds of thousands of wild Chinook each year?

Wouldn’t a suspension of Chinook fishing for several years (with compensation for the fishing fleet, if other species do not substitute) contribute significantly to survival of both orca and Chinook?

Peg Manning

Orcas Island

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