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Draft recommendations for orca recovery released for comment

September 28, 2018

Watercraft stay the appropriate distance from a surfacing orca off San Juan Island Friday, Sept. 9, 2011.

A draft report on potential actions to help in the recovery of the region’s endangered Southern Resident orcas was released Monday, and is available for public comment through Oct. 7.

The draft report includes short-term and long-term options for helping restore the declining whale population. The options were compiled by three working groups of orca experts and stakeholders advising the state’s orca recovery task force.

The about 40-member task force, which includes representatives from the Port of Anacortes and the Samish Indian Nation, will consider both the draft list of options and the public comments as it works to complete official recommendations for Gov. Jay Inslee by Nov. 16.

The draft report recommends taking actions to increase chinook salmon available as food for the orcas, quiet vessel traffic near the whales and improve water quality throughout the region.

“We envision a self-sustaining and resilient population of Southern Resident orcas, thriving in healthy waters, inspiring our descendants with their majesty,” the document states. “If these creatures — the mammals who inhabit the top of the food chain in our Salish Sea — are unable to survive, it portends trouble for the rest of the inhabitants of this region. Action is required immediately.”

Some of the recommended actions could take place in Skagit County, including the slowing of ferries such as the one serving Guemes Island and restoring large swaths of estuary habitat such as is found in the lower Skagit River watershed, according to the document.

As of the task force’s August meeting in Anacortes, the work groups came up with 66 potential actions.

Of those, 21 had support from 80 percent or more of task force members, according to a survey conducted earlier that month.

They ranged from reducing stormwater pollution to increasing the number of chinook salmon raised at hatcheries.

Six possible actions had more than 90 percent support: restricting the use of echo sounders and increasing forage fish populations by protecting and restoring habitat with 97 percent each, making state ferries quieter with 94 percent, ensuring Whale Wise curriculum is included in boater education and licensing with 91 percent, and increasing hatchery chinook and restoring habitat for the fish with 90 percent each.

Each of those focuses are included in some way in the draft report now open for public comment.

Comments can be submitted online at governor.wa.gov/orcareport or by mail to Puget Sound Partnership, ATTN: SRKW DRAFT REPORT, 326 East D St. Tacoma, 98421.

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