The Trump administration has not done enough to ensure the survival of the diminishing population of Southern Resident orcas, a lawsuit filed jointly by the Center for Biological Diversity and Wild Fish Conservancy claims.
The groups argue orcas are dying because they don’t have enough salmon to eat, said Julie Teel Simmonds, a Center attorney.
“We are focused right now on getting this population back from the edge of extinction, so our focus in this lawsuit is definitely providing enough salmon for those hungry orcas.”
The lawsuit was filed April 3 in federal court in the Western District of Washington. It seeks to compel the National Marine Fisheries Service to assess and reduce the threat to the endangered orcas from salmon fishing off Washington, Oregon and California, according to a news release.
The lawsuit charges the Trump Administration with mismanaging West Coast salmon fisheries and harming critically endangered Southern Resident killer whales, a violation of the Endangered Species Act. The orca population here has dropped to just 75 individuals, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
“While orcas starve to death, the Trump administration is refusing to protect salmon populations crucial to their survival,” Teel Simmonds said. “Salmon and the killer whales that rely on them are both in trouble, and this fishery must be better managed to promote their recovery. If federal officials don’t act now, we’ll lose our chance to pull these beloved animals back from the edge of extinction.”
The Southern Resident population reached a 34-year low in 2018 after the loss of a newborn calf and a young female, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. Researchers have been closely watching two other ailing orcas that appear to be malnourished. Starving orcas show signs of “peanut head” — a condition in which an individual has lost so much body fat that a depression appears behind its blowhole.
“The Trump administration can no longer ignore the scientific evidence that clearly demonstrates the link between reduced size and abundance of Chinook and the reduced reproductive success of Southern Resident killer whales,” said Kurt Beardslee, executive director of the Wild Fish Conservancy. “Starving killer whales and smaller and less abundant Chinook are merely symptoms of the problems created by harvest management that is fundamentally broken.”
The goal is for fisheries managers to consider whether there are management changes that could increase salmon availability for the orcas, Teel Simmonds said.
It is too soon to tell if the amount of chinook salmon available to commercial fishers and private anglers would be reduced, Teel Simmonds said.
Revisiting the Pacific Salmon Treaty
Beardslee calls on the American and Canadian governments to renegotiate the Pacific Salmon Treaty of 1985.
“The treaty is not capable of protecting the endangered species because the partners are unwilling to reduce harvest on them enough.”
Instead, the focus has been to introduce more salmon bred in fisheries into the wild, which Beardslee said is detrimental to the environment.
The solution is instead to stop overharvesting the existing population, Beardslee said.
Efforts on Tuesday to reach the spokespersons for the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife and for the Regional Fisheries Coalition were unsuccessful.