An injunction to halt all king salmon trolling effective July 1 was filed in federal court on April 16 by Wild Fish Conservancy (WFC), a conservation ecology organization based in Duvall, Wash. The conservancy contends that the federal government violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to protect Southern Resident killer whales and wild king salmon in its analysis of the fishery. The WFC is asking the federal court to halt the fishing season set to begin July 1 until the NOAA assessment is corrected and it can be shown that the fishery would not push the surviving 72 Southern Resident killer whales further toward extinction.
The ATA contends that the lawsuit, which is calls frivolous, puts the short and long term future of their coastal communities and small fishery businesses at serious risk.
ATA officials said in a statement that they find “both disheartening and surprising” that the conservancy “has overlooked their dams, habitat degradation and toxic pollution in their own backyard and instead focus their attacks on a sustainable hook and line salmon fishery over a thousand miles away.”
The ATA notes that the hook and line fishery catches one fish at a time during tightly regulated openings and that in recent years they have harvested but a fraction of their historical Chinook catch. In Pacific Salmon Treaty negotiations in 1991 they took a 35 percent cut, followed by a 15 percent cut in 2009 and at least another 7.5 percent a year ago, the ATA said. New provisions renegotiated in the last Pacific Salmon Treaty between the US and Canada cut back catches of king salmon throughout their migration routes specifically expecting to increase prey available to the Southern Resident killer whales. The new agreement also invests millions of dollars in additional chinook hatchery production and habitat restoration to support salmon and recovery of these whales, they said.
The ATA statement also notes that the decline of the Southern Resident killer whales dates back to 1962 and 1976, when the state of Washington allowed the capture of 270 sexually mature whales for marine parks. Those whale harvests led to creation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
NMFS also issued a statement saying that “the capture of killer whales for public display during the 1970s likely depressed their population size and altered the population characteristics sufficiently to severely affect their reproduction and persistence.”
“Alaska trollers,” the ATA said, “should not be held accountable for those bad decisions.”