Killers and kings: West Coast group intervenes in orca lawsuit

The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations has intervened in a lawsuit that claims federal management of West Coast salmon fisheries is endangering orca whales.

On Wednesday, May 29, the federation, the West Coast’s largest trade organization of small-scale commercial fishermen, filed its opposition to the lawsuit filed in a Seattle federal court lawsuit on April 3, by the Wild Fish Conservancy and the Center for Biological Diversity.

The suit was reportedly filed to protect endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales which eat primarily king salmon, by arguing that their food supply is not well managed. This orca subgroup migrates from California’s coastal waters to Washington’s Puget Sound and into British Columbia. West Coast salmon fisheries outside of state waters are managed by the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which prioritizes sustainability and replenishment.

The suit claims that federally managed ocean salmon fisheries are allowing commercial harvest of the orcas’ food supply, which is contrary to NMFS data and management standards that commercial salmon fisheries have little or no impact on the whales. For many years the council has managed West Coast salmon fisheries to minimize any potential competition between orcas and fishermen, including through a NMFS-approved 2009 biological opinion, which contains various required mitigation measures that further minimize and mitigate impacts to the endangered whales.

“Seafood lovers on the West Coast should be proud of their fisheries management system, which is among the best in the world,” said Noah Oppenheim, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. “The Center for Biological Diversity and Wild Fish Conservancy lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service is naïve, counterproductive, and unnecessary. By suing, these two groups instead undermine the extraordinary coalition of scientists, managers, commercial fishermen, and conservationists that has come together to identify the strategies that will be used to recover the Southern Resident Killer Whale population.”

The plaintiffs are seeking to significantly curtail, or close entirely, ocean salmon fisheries coastwide, which would be a completely unnecessary billion-dollar economic disaster for West Coast salmon-dependent communities and fishing families. The suit also urges the council to “reconsult” the ’09 biological opinion, which NMFS had committed to a month before the suit was filed.

The federation argues that the suit is based on faulty premises and poor science, is unfair to salmon fishing-dependent communities and seafood lovers along the West Coast, and will be counterproductive for the region’s ongoing efforts to restore damaged salmon-bearing watersheds.

“Our industry’s participation in this litigation will ensure that the good ideas already on the table will be embraced, and the bad ideas promoted by this unnecessary lawsuit are kept on the shelf where they belong,” Oppenheim said. “The West Coast can have their salmon and eat them too.”

About the author

Jessica Hathaway

Jessica Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman. She has been covering the fishing industry for 13 years, serves on the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s Communications Committee and is a National Fisheries Conservation Center board member.

© Diversified Communications. All rights reserved.