Fishermen's News - The Advocate for the Commercial Fisherman

PCFFA Will Take On CBD, WFC in Killer Whale Lawsuit


June 1, 2019

It’s been said to “make sure everybody in your boat is rowing, and not drilling holes when you’re not looking.”

In our column last month, we wrote that commercial fisheries are being attacked by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), an environmental group based in Arizona with offices around the country. We readily acknowledge that our organization has been co-plaintiff with CBD on a number of lawsuits initiated in the past aimed at challenging threats to commercial salmon fisheries. Our motivation has always been to keep fish in the water so they can land on the back deck. The struggle has been real, and it has led to the forging of alliances with environmental organizations, including many that truly value seafood and the fishing way of life. Without these alliances, it’s likely that commercial salmon fisheries in California and elsewhere would be long gone by now.

But because of CBD’s decision to pursue litigation that fundamentally harms commercial fisheries and results in the destruction of coastal communities, we will no longer work with them on any litigation in the future. This is now an established policy within our organization, and we hope it will become the policy of any other groups who truly wish to conserve anadromous fisheries on the West Coast.

This year, our struggle for the fish and against misguided attacks continues. In 2018 CBD partnered with the Washington State-based environmental and anti-commercial fishing group the Wild Fish Conservancy to file a “60-Day Notice” of intent to sue the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). In April they made good on their threat and filed a lawsuit in US Federal District Court of the Western District of the State of Washington (Seattle). The case, Center for Biological Diversity, Wild Fish Conservancy vs. NMFS, et al., (Civil Action No 2;19-CV-00487), seeks major changes to the PFMC’s Pacific Coast salmon Fishery Management Plan (FMP), supposedly to save more salmon to help feed the ESA-listed Southern Resident killer whales (SRKW).

When the SRKW were first ESA-listed back in 2005, NMFS was required to do an assessment of the various causes of their decline and set in place required mitigation measures (called “reasonable and prudent alternatives”) to integrate into the PFMC’s salmon FMP. This was completed in 2009 through what is called a “Biological Opinion (BiOp),” and PFMC salmon harvest management since then has factored in natural killer whale predation into its season settings process. So there are a number of mitigation measures already in place to minimize impacts of commercial salmon fishing on the SRKW and other ESA-listed orca populations.

This lawsuit comes despite NMFS’ March decision to reinitiate consultation on the SRKW BiOp and to convene a working group of agency staff and scientists to evaluate the dietary needs of the whales. The feds and the state agencies are already addressing the issue through normal procedures. So why the new litigation?

Groups like CBD and the Wild Fish Conservancy are opportunistically riding the media wave in demanding that “something be done” immediately to help SRKW. The problem, of course, is that their “solution” is hopelessly simplistic – “Just take the salmon away from the commercial fishermen,” they say, “and the orcas will have plenty to eat. ”Wild Fish Conservancy says nothing in any of its press releases about comparably reducing the impacts on salmon from recreational fishing, for example. Part of this is a ‘divide and conquer’ approach, but in truth, WFC is a pro-recreational, anti-commercial group. We have no doubt that if a judge heeds their legal demands, the outcome will not be fair or equitable.

Another, better, and far more obvious and equitable way to provide more salmon for starving orcas (as well as fishermen) is to ramp up salmon hatchery production in those areas most likely to make a difference to the orcas. In fact, this was one of the major recommendations of Governor Inslee’s Orca Task Force, and it’s one we wholeheartedly support.

Killer whales and commercial salmon fishermen thus share a common issue – both need more adult Chinook salmon to return to the Columbia River; orcas to avoid starvation, fishermen to sustain their livelihoods and families. salmon fishermen too are now effectively an endangered species, and for the same reasons as orcas – their salmon prey everywhere are rapidly disappearing. We won’t let radical environmental groups pit us against the whales.

The new lawsuit leaves open the possibility of injunctive relief against NMFS to force changes in the FMP beyond what the agency would deem ‘reasonable and prudent’. For this and many other reasons, PCFFA along with our Washington partner the Coastal Trollers Association, will file motions to intervene in the litigation to protect salmon fisheries against these attacks.

CBD has drilled holes in the boat, but we will not allow them to sink us.

Noah Oppenheim is the Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. Glen Spain is PCFFA Northwest Regional Director as well as PCFFA General Legal Counsel.


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