The NOAA Fisheries Department is seeking public comment on the plan, which calls for restricting commercial and recreational salmon fishing when chinook forecasts are particularly low. Southern Resident Killer Whales – the endangered orcas that spend much of their time in the waters between Washington State and British Columbia – are heavily dependent on fat chinook depletion.
Recent research has confirmed how important chinook salmon are to whales year-round, and not just when feeding in the inland waters of Washington and British Columbia in the summer.
Fishing restrictions would extend from Puget Sound in Washington to Monterey Bay in central California – about 1,300 miles of coastline – and would be triggered when fewer than 966,000 Chinooks are expected to return to the rivers of the Pacific Northwest.
The last time the chinook return forecast was this low was in 2007.
The restrictions would include reducing fishing quotas north of Cape Falcon in Oregon; delay the start of commercial sea trolling between Cape Falcon and Monterey Bay; and the closure of parts of the Columbia River and Grays Harbor in Washington, as well as the Klamath River and Monterey Bay to fishing for much of the year.
If NOAA Fisheries adopts the plan as recommended by the Pacific Fishery Management Council, it would be one of the first times that a federal agency would restrict hunting or fishing to one species for the benefit of a predator that depends on it.
There are 75 orcas in the three groups that make up the southern resident killer whale population.
Killer whales have been in recent years at their lowest numbers since the 1970s, when hundreds were captured –
and over 50 have been kept – for aquarium display.
Scientists warn the population is on the brink of extinction.