Commercial Fishermen Intervene in Orca-Salmon Lawsuit

Noah Oppenheim, Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Association (PCFFA), speaks at rally of Tribal leaders, fishermen and environmentalists against the Trump administration's plan to increase increase Delta exports to agribusiness in January 2018. |

By Dan Bacher |

The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA) yesterday filed to formally intervene in a Seattle federal court lawsuit that the Wild Fish Conservancy (WFC) and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) filed on April 3. I will post more information and responses to this legal action as I receive them. Here is the PCFFA press release: Seattle, WA -- Thursday, May 30, 2019. On Wednesday May 29th, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA), the West Coast’s largest trade organization of small-scale commercial fishermen and women, filed to formally intervene in a Seattle federal court lawsuit filed April 3, 2019, by the Wild Fish Conservancy (WFC) and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), supposedly brought to protect endangered orcas.

PCFFA says 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.

The iconic Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW), which eat primarily Chinook salmon, are listed as “endangered” under the federal Endangered Species Act. West coast salmon fisheries outside state waters are managed by the federal government, through the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC). The fishery is managed under a Fishery Management Plan that prioritizes sustainability and replenishment.

The WFC/CBD lawsuit claims that PFMC-managed ocean salmon fisheries are allowing commercial fishing families to harvest salmon needed by the SRKW population of orcas as food. But the federal fisheries management and science agency, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), has long held the view, based on the best available science, that commercial salmon fisheries have little or no impact on the whales.

Despite these facts and the longstanding record of conservation in the salmon fishing industry, the lawsuit is seeking to significantly curtail, or close entirely, ocean salmon fisheries coast wide, which would be a completely unnecessary billion-dollar economic disaster for west coast salmon-dependent communities and fishing families. For many years the PFMC has been managing all west coast salmon fisheries in ways that 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.

The lawsuit claims that the 2009 Biological Opinion is obsolete, that new scientific information should be incorporated into PFMC management, and that NMFS should “reconsult” on the old PFMC Biological Opinion to update it. A month before the lawsuit was filed, NMFS already announced that it would be formally reconsulting on the 2009 PFMC Biological Opinion, with the goal to have a new PFMC Salmon Fisheries Biological Opinion in place by the beginning of the next salmon season on May 1, 2020.

The Center for Biological Diversity and the Wild Fish Conservancy are also demanding that the Court “order the Fisheries Service to implement additional mitigation measures to reduce the risk of insufficient prey abundance” for the whales. Wild Fish Conservancy’s own promotional materials advocate for major reductions (and even total closures) of ocean salmon commercial fisheries coast wide, supposedly to help the orcas catch more salmon.

Extreme measures of this sort, however, are not supported by the science, and would cause economic havoc for many salmon-dependent coastal communities. Approaches that facilitate more natural salmon spawning and support additional hatchery production are far more likely to achieve conservation success.

“Seafood lovers on the West Coast should be proud of their fisheries management system, which is among the best in the world,” said PCFFA executive director Noah Oppenheim. “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. We won’t let their divisive tactics get in the way of this monumental conservation effort.”

Salmon runs that killer whales need for their sustenance are deeply depressed nearly everywhere, but not because of historic or current levels of commercial fishing. Salmon lay their eggs in freshwater streams, and only migrate to sea as juveniles. After 2 to 5 years at sea, those that survive then migrate back as adults to spawn in the same inland streams in which they are hatched, completing their life-cycle.

But in the last century, nearly all the west coast’s traditional salmon-producing watersheds were badly damaged, with the vast majority of traditional salmon habitat blocked by largely obsolete dams, their rivers sucked dry, and multiple pollutants poured into their rivers. Today, many salmon runs are themselves endangered, and ocean salmon fisheries are down to less than 20% of their historic strength. Both orcas and fishermen now often go without the salmon they need for their sustenance and livelihoods.

“The CBD/WFC lawsuit deliberately and unfairly seeks to pit orcas against salmon-fishing dependent communities, when in fact the reasons behind decades of salmon declines lie in dams and their predator gauntlets, water diversions, increased natural mortality from climate change, and the degradation of virtually all major salmon bearing rivers,” added Noah Oppenheim. “This lawsuit is clearly motivated by the Wild Fish Conservancy’s oft-stated desire to take fishing opportunity away from the commercial sector, which feeds the West Coast and the world, by any means necessary. Shifting salmon allocations around from one user group to another will not make more fish, and is not a solution to whale conservation in the long-term. 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. The West Coast can have their salmon and eat them too.”


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1 comment

Gregory Jones said...

What? Challenging a knee-jerk lawsuit by tossing "yabut" root causes on the table?

How un-PC!

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