Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Obama Team Ignores Orca Population Crisis

While Top Fisheries Scientists Find Obama Salmon Plan Insufficient to Protect Salmon, It Doesn’t Even Consider Endangered Orcas Jeopardized by Salmon Shortages

Contact: Ken Balcomb, Center for Whale Research
orcasurv@rockisland.com, (360) 378-5835

This can also be found at the Seattle PI's Blog - "City Brights" - hosted by Candace Calloway Whiting

Friday Harbor, WA — The Western Division of the American Fisheries Society (WDAFS) this week released a scientific review of the Obama Administration’s proposed additions to the federal salmon plan for the Columbia-Snake River Basin. Even though the WDAFS report is sharply critical of the Obama team’s salmon science, it does not comment on one of the most glaring errors in the salmon plan: Its complete failure to consider the effects of salmon declines on endangered Southern Resident orcas.

The society’s assessment concludes that the Obama addendum, issued by NOAA Fisheries last September and known as the Adaptive Management Implementation Plan or AMIP, is not aggressive, rigorous, or specific enough to help bolster imperiled runs of wild salmon and steelhead. The American Fisheries Society is the world’s largest and oldest organization of fisheries professionals; its 3,500-member Western Division covers the 13 western states and British Columbia, including the entire Columbia Basin.

The WDAFS review looked at what the Obama team had itself analyzed and included in the AMIP. For that reason, the review – like the Obama plan itself – does not even include the words “orca” or “killer whale,” much less examine how the salmon crisis is driving orcas closer to extinction.

Federal law required the Bush Administration’s 2008 salmon plan to include an assessment of whether the hydropower operations in the Columbia Basin might jeopardize the endangered Puget Sound orcas (also known as killer whales). Those giant marine mammals eat predominantly chinook salmon, and have had difficulty finding enough to stay healthy. The 2008 salmon plan briefly dismissed any risk to the orcas from the dam-related salmon mortality.

The Obama team’s review of the Bush plan did not reconsider that finding.

In its review, AFS’s Western Division stated that while the AMIP includes some measures that are helpful to salmon, those actions are still “inadequate for ensuring the protection of threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River Basin.” Further, the review concludes that the AMIP “does not always use the ‘best scientific information,’” while its Rapid Response Actions – a central feature of the government’s salmon plan postscript – are neither rapid nor particularly responsive.

Kenneth C. Balcomb, Principal Investigator of the Center for Whale Research, has been tracking, researching and publishing research on Southern Residents since 1976. He said:

“As bad as the AMIP is with respect to salmon – and the AFS review makes plain that it is very bad – it is even worse with respect to Puget Sound’s resident orca population. First, every one of the shortcomings with respect to salmon reflects a shortcoming with respect to the primary prey of these orcas. Second, the Obama team simply ignored the proven relationship between salmon mortality and orca population declines. Had it been concerned about a thorough backstopping of the 2008 Bush BiOp, the Obama team would have given at least a passing glance to the other Pacific Northwest icon, the orca.” The current depleted Southern Resident population consumes about 820,000 chinook salmon each year.

Balcomb also noted that while NOAA was reviewing the Bush-era plan for the Columbia and Snake Rivers, it released a salmon plan for the Sacramento River, in which it emphatically recognized that Southern Residents will not survive if water operations keep killing chinook salmon. “And in the Sacramento River plan, NOAA stated clearly that mortality to wild salmon jeopardizes orcas, regardless of the hatchery fish produced as mitigation. Why that finding should be different on the Columbia is a mystery.”

Southern Residents are fish-eating orcas that spend much of the year in Puget Sound and the Georgia Straits. They historically had a population of at least 200. Over the last 20 years, the population has varied between 71 and 97 individuals and is currently at 88. At that level, the population cannot survive.

“People who care about Southern Residents should insist that the Obama Administration seize the opportunity to correct the shortcomings of the 2008 salmon plan. Not only does it matter for salmon – it is essential for the survival of Puget Sound’s orcas.”

“Fishery managers throughout the eastern North Pacific would do well to heed the warnings from these mobile top predators,” he added. “If we deplete the Chinook of one river system, they will travel as necessary to the resources of another river system and confound the best efforts of fishery scientists to ‘predict’ returns based upon historical patterns. They must be included in the analyses and the ‘allotments,’ not hated or dismissed as a factor. What has happened here and in the Columbia has affected the Klamath and Sacramento system.”

For more information on the Center for Whale Research and Southern Resident Orcas, see www.whaleresearch.com.

The Western Division of AFS’s review of the Obama Administration’s AMIP is at http://www.wdafs.org/committees/policy_review/WDAFS%20Review%20of%20AMIP.pdf


No comments: