Fresh Alaskan King Salmon Displayed on Pike Place Fish Market Seattle

This week, a major victory was secured for the Southern Resident killer whales offering hope that more Chinook salmon will be available as prey in the future.

A lawsuit filed by Wild Fish Conservancy successfully demonstrated that the ongoing authorization of the Southeast Alaska Chinook fishery by NOAA Fisheries, jeopardizes the future of both these endangered species. NOAA Fisheries has failed to follow the law and so has increased the risk of extinction of predator and prey; this at the hands of the very agency tasked with their protection and recovery.

We do not yet know quite how this will play out, and when; but it does feel like a watershed moment. This is the second time in two years that the government has been obliged to recognize that it must consider the needs of this endangered killer whale population when setting fishery catch limits.

“This is unbelievable news, yet so long in coming,” said Wild Orca’s Science and Research Director, Dr. Deborah Giles. “Most fish caught in the Southeast Alaska Chinook fishery are from home rivers in the Southern Resident killer whales’ critical habitat—areas designated by NOAA Fisheries as essential to their survival. The government’s own research has shown that Chinook from Washington State rivers are vital prey in winter, and yet they have permitted these fish to be caught when they’re feeding in Alaska, depriving the whales of the vital nutrition needed to sustain healthy pregnancies, and grow this population.”

“Fisheries should be compensated for loss of revenue, as the Canadian Government has done in their efforts to save Pacific salmon,” Giles continued. “Yet there is no equivalent reparation for killer whales, for whom Chinook is essential. It is clear from our health monitoring that hatchery fish have failed to make up for the loss of wild Chinook in the ecosystem. We must save our wild salmon if we are to save the Southern Resident killer whales.”

Learn more about this landmark ruling in our Deeper Dive.