|Chinook salmon [Ryan Hagerty/UWFWS]
Twenty years later we have not recovered our native Chinook and the Southern Resident killer whales are dying. As Ken Balcomb once said, "No fish, no blackfish."
How many Chinook would the whales need? According to a October 2017 study by Robert C. Lacy et al, "Chinook abundance would have to be sustained near the highest level since the 1970s" to provide adequate prey for the whales. [Evaluating anthropogenic threats to endangered killer whales to inform effective recovery plans ]
The required increase in Chinook availability could be reduced by a fifty percent decrease in vessel noise, according to the study.
What must be done? First, keep the fish in the water. It's time the state and treaty tribes declare a moratorium on native Chinook harvest until there's real progress on salmon recovery.
Next, stop the disturbance and modification to in-water, nearshore and riparian habits. These places are where humans alter where forage fish spawn and where Chinook spawn and grow up before going to sea. Government jurisdictions should declare a moratorium on these land use actions until there's progress on salmon recovery.
Then, create more spawning habitat by accelerating road culvert and dike removal.
Native fish recovery should be the focus. The only chance the Southern Resident killer whales have for recovery is if we recover the health and abundance of our native Chinook salmon.
Sure, we can dramatically reduce vessel noise and vessel interactions but that only will make a difference if there are abundant prey for the whales.
We will never kill enough seals and sea lions to make more Chinook salmon available to the whales. And if we continue throwing more hatchery Chinook into the mix with native Chinook, we will destroy the native population.
Maybe there will be time to remove dams. Maybe there will be some marvelous technology that solves ocean survival. But unless the state, tribes and federal government take on the hard tasks that haven't been done in the last 20 years, we lose the salmon and we lose the whales.
Having been involved with Puget Sound protection and restoration for the last 30 years, I'm no longer sure if native Chinook and the Southern Resident killer whales can be saved and returned to health. But I know the time for nice, empty words is long past.
Small fixes to the status quo will not do. Demand action. More native Chinook. "No fish, no blackfish."
"Will we now commit to saving the Northwest’s orcas? A task force meets Tuesday" Lynda Mapes reports. (Seattle Times) August 4, 2018
"Orcas headed to extinction unless we get them more chinook and quieter waters, report says" Lynda Mapes reports. (Seattle Times) October 27, 2017
"Evaluating anthropogenic threats to endangered killer whales to inform effective recovery plans" Robert C. Lacy et al October 2017
"Can the Endangered Orca Whale Save the Sound?" Salish Sea Communications blog March 16, 2018
"Puget Sound Recovery—Tell the Truth" Kathy Fletcher March 19, 2018