The Pacific Fishery Management Council unanimously adopted new ocean salmon fishing regulations today to help save critically endangered Southern Resident killer whales from extinction. While the birth of two calves this year was welcome news, Southern Residents face an uncertain future with only 74 individuals left and a diet almost entirely comprised of declining salmon populations, especially Chinook salmon.
Pacific salmon, primarily Chinook (also known as King) salmon, are 99 percent of the diet of Southern Resident killer whales. A single adult Southern Resident typically needs to eat 12 to 20 Chinook salmon every day, and as many as 30 depending on the size and nutrition levels of the fish. Wild salmon populations have been in decline due to a combination of dams, habitat loss and fishing pressure.
“Salmon are everything to Southern Resident killer whales, and we must find a way to recover salmon, protect their habitat, and make sure there are enough in the ocean for orcas to eat and raise their young,” said Ben Enticknap, Oceana’s Pacific Campaign Manager and Senior Scientist. “There’s a way to balance salmon fishing with the needs of these endangered orcas, and today’s action by the fishery council represents a first step in that direction.”
Sixteen Southern Resident killer whales have died since 2015, while nine calves have been born and are still alive. Forty percent of Southern Resident calves do not survive their first few years of life, a tragedy that received worldwide attention when an orca mother named Tahlequah carried her stillborn calf for 17 days in 2018. Tahlequah recently gave birth to a new calf, and scientists remain optimistic the calf will survive but wary of the dangers of declining salmon populations.
“Today’s decision could help Tahlequah and her calf have enough to eat in years to come,” said Ben Enticknap, Pacific Campaign Manager and Senior Scientist. “Big, bold, and rapid changes are needed to help salmon and Southern Resident killer whales recover, and we’re hopeful responsible fishery management will now be part of the solution.”
When the pre-season Chinook forecast off Northern Oregon and Washington (north of Cape Falcon, Oregon) is below the threshold of 966,000 Chinook salmon, fishery managers will further restrict non-tribal catch levels in that area and implement a shorter fishing season. They will also close areas to fishing off the Columbia River and Grays Harbor, Washington as well as other areas off Southern Oregon and Northern California. The Council took this action after undertaking a scientific review of the effects of fishing on endangered Southern Resident orcas and hearing from Tribes, scientists, fishermen and the public. The proposed measures will now go the National Marine Fisheries Service for rulemaking and incorporation into the Pacific Coast Salmon Fishery Management Plan.
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Oceana is the largest international advocacy organization dedicated solely to ocean conservation. Oceana is rebuilding abundant and biodiverse oceans by winning science-based policies in countries that control one third of the world’s wild fish catch. With over 200 victories that stop overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution and killing of threatened species like turtles and sharks, Oceana’s campaigns are delivering results. A restored ocean means that one billion people can enjoy a healthy seafood meal, every day, forever. Together, we can save the oceans and help feed the world. Visit usa.oceana.org to learn more