Orca panel’s recommendations on sea lions, seals important

A recent Herald article ignores two of Gov. Inslee’s orca commission recommendations concerning the depredations by sea lions and harbor seals on the primary food source of Southern Resident Killer Whales, king salmon. The NOAA Contractor Chasco paper reports pinnipeds now eat twice the biomass of king (chinook) salmon as Southern Residents, six times more than the state commercial and recreational catch, and are ten times more numerous in Puget Sound since the 1970s-era Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The commission recommends involving NOAA, state Indian tribes, and state agencies into studying the pinniped impact upon the the orcas’ primary food source, king salmon, so as to immediately put in place management practices. Further, they also recommend the state work with NOAA to amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act to allow the lethal removal of pinnipeds from the Columbia River.

Reduction of the pinniped predation is one of only three recommendations that have any immediate chance of success in reversing the decline in orca prey. As the removal of the lower Snake River dams is not feasible without replacing the barge traffic, irrigation and electricity these dams provide it will be many years before the questionable benefit of removal is determined.

All the other recommendations of the commission have to a greater or lesser degree been in place during the abrupt 20-year decline of salmon in Puget Sound. Vessel noise reduction, hatchery operations only recently curtailed due to gene pool foolishness, habitat restoration, reduction of contaminants and runoff, and sharp drops in recreational or commercial harvest were all contemporaneous during years of disappearing salmon.

Surely reducing the impact of pinnipeds upon salmon , including lethal means, has newsworthy interest.

The media throughout Puget Sound has been remiss and silent regarding the useful management of pinnipeds to help restore king salmon and, in turn, the orcas.

Robert R. Rohrberg


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