The governor's task force on orca recovery is accepting public comment on 36 draft recommendations to help save the ailing southern resident killer whales, which are down to just 74 animals.
A governor’s task force published a new draft report Wednesday outlining options to help save beleaguered southern resident orcas. Among its potential suggestions: open season on walleye, bass and catfish, a permit system for whale-watching and spending millions on habitat restoration.
The report offers 36 draft recommendations. Most are centered on three broad initiatives: To increase the abundance of chinook salmon — orcas’ favorite food, to reduce noise and disturbance from sea vessels and to reduce orcas’ exposure to harmful pollutants.
The task force is accepting public comment on its draft recommendations through Oct. 29. The task force will meet again on Nov. 6 in Puyallup and release a final report for its first year on Nov. 16. The report is intended to inform the governor’s requests for the coming legislative session, as well as executive orders.
The draft outlines some costs the state and other stakeholders will face in trying to rehabilitate ailing orca populations.
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The task force recommends spending an estimated $60 million over two years to fully fund existing programs to restore nearshore habitat, paying millions to increase fish-hatchery production and committing hundreds of thousands of dollars toward surveys and research on topics like chinook salmon prey and zooplankton.
Anglers might be pleased to see that the task force could call for removing catch and size limits for species of nonnative fish like walleye, bass and catfish, which prey upon or compete with salmon.
It proposes requiring boaters to pay an addition $10 for a certification to increase education about limiting impacts of vessels on orcas and suggests the creation of a permit system for commercial whale-watching operations to “increase acoustic refuge opportunities for the orcas.”
Leading killer-whale researchers called recently for the removal of dams on the Lower Snake River in a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee. The task force recommended the hiring of a neutral third party to explore the option and conduct a cost-benefit analysis on dam removal.
As a result of a federal injunction, the state’s transportation department has been removing fish barriers like small dams and culverts that hinder salmon. The task force recommends the department prioritize fish-barrier work in places that would “provide a high benefit to Chinook.”
Southern resident orcas have been a federally listed endangered species since 2005. Three animals died this year, dropping the population of southern resident killer whales to just 74 animals. At least three whales are pregnant, but the southern residents have struggled to reproduce successfully for several years.