Washington Kayakers & Orca Whale Watchers Celebrate Victory for Salmon Conservation

People who enjoy orca whale watching and kayaking in Washington’s Salish Sea rejoiced at yesterday’s news. U.S. District Court Judge James Redden ruled that the National Marine Fishers Service (NMFS) miserably failed yet again to produce either a legal or scientifically adequate plan to protect endangered salmon from extinction. This is the 3rd time in 10 years that the judge has ruled against NMFS and demands that they improve their shoddy efforts that are damaging salmon, killer whales, and our coastal economy. See our blog article on NMFS failings in killer whale management in the San Juan Islands.

San Juan Isalnds Kayaking Tours - Orca Whale WatchingThe new ruling primarily concerns salmon stocks crucial to orca whale survival that have been 99% destroyed by federal dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. In deciding the case, the court wrote, “The history of (NMFS) lack of, or at best, marginal compliance with the procedural and substantive requirements of the Endangered Species Act has been laid out”… The court went on to call NMFS’ plan “neither a reasonable, nor a prudent, course of action.” “Coupled with the significant uncertainty surrounding the reliability of NMFS habitat methodologies, the evidence that habitat actions are falling behind schedule, and that benefits are not accruing as promised, NMFS’ approach to these issues is neither cautious nor rational.”

In finding the current plan’s heavy reliance on unidentified and uncertain habitat actions illegal, the court wrote: “Coupled with the significant uncertainty surrounding the reliability of NMFS’ habitat methodologies, the evidence that habitat actions are falling behind schedule, and that benefits are not accruing as promised, NMFS’ approach to these issues is neither cautious nor rational.”

Earthjustice, the public interest law firm that represented fishing and conservation groups in the case said, “Taking out the four dams that strangle the lower Snake River would bring millions of dollars from restored salmon runs to communities from coastal California to Alaska and inland to Idaho. Let’s reject the path that continues wasting tax money on failed salmon technical fixes and embrace a solution that could set an example for the rest of the nation.”

“The judge’s decision is a victory for wildlife, taxpayers, and the fishing industry,” said John Kostyack, Executive Director of the National Wildlife Federation. “Protecting Columbia-Snake River salmon protects fishing jobs, saves taxpayers billions of dollars, and helps preserve the outdoor heritage of the Northwest.” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said “We applaud the court for keeping a solid eye on science and the law.

Zeke Grader, Executive Director of Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations said, “As this ruling highlights, the federal government has spent nearly 20 years spending enormous sums of tax money foolishly by doing all the wrong stuff. Facing the problem squarely, including potential removal of the four fish-killing dams on the lower Snake River, will create many thousands more jobs, revive the fishing industry, save billions of dollars for taxpayers, and lead in the development of clean, renewable, more efficient energy. What we need most now is for the Obama Administration to lead us to those solutions, not just bury its head in the sand in denial as has so often happened in the past.”

Now we wait to see if NMFS can get their act together to save salmon and orca whales and prove that they create a new plan acceptable to the courts, concerned San Juan Island kayakers, and killer whale watchers in Washington state.

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