The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) has approved an amendment to the management of Chinook salmon off the West Coast to benefit the struggling Southern Resident orcas.

Three pods, with 75 total orcas (three of which are pregnant), rely on the Chinook salmon species to fortify their diet. These pods are referred to as the Southern Resident orca population and they occupy the waters between Washington and British Colombia. In recent years, they have been at their lowest population number since the 70s. Many scientists say they are on the brink of extinction.

Fishing restrictions would spread from Puget Sound in Washington to Monterey Bay in California. If the anticipated Chinook salmon run is below 966,000, then restrictions would be enforced. This limit was calculated by taking the average of the seven lowest years of forecasted salmon abundance in the region. The good news is that Chinook numbers haven’t been that low since 2007.

Orca Whale Surfacing. Photo Source: NPS Photo/Paige Calamari

The major measures that would take place are as follows:

  • Close off areas of Colombia River and Grays Harbor to all but tribal fishing until June 15th
  • Delay ocean commercial fishery between Cape Falcon and the Oregon/California border until April 1st
  • Reduce fishing quotas north of Cape Falcon, OR
  • Close off selected areas of the Kalamath River and Monterey Bay to recreational and commercial fishing from October 1st until the following year March 31st

This amendment comes after the Pacific Fishery Management Council of NOAA conducted a consultation under the Endangered Species Act. The consultation was prompted by new findings detailing where the whale population fed and what their preferred prey was. The examination was performed to ensure that the fishery would not threaten the continued existence of the Southern Resident orca population.

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