The Lens –
Last year, Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) released 137 million salmon from its hatcheries, the lowest production year ever for the state agency followed by 2017’s 145 million. However, the agency is proposing to boost production of salmon over the next two years at 23 hatchery facilities by 24 million as part of an overall strategy to aid the Southern Resident killer whale population.
The state agency’s proposal to the state legislature includes a $6.35 million funding request in the operating budget and corresponds with one of the recommendations made by the state’s Southern Resident Killer Whale task force set up by Governor Jay Inslee.
The task force hosted several working group meetings throughout the state last year to examine short-term and long-term strategies to increase the number of Southern Resident orcas, which were classified as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 2005. Between 1995-2003, their numbers fell by 16 percent and now less than 80 remain.
One of the causes attributed to their dwindling population is an insufficient supply of salmon, which makes up 80-90 percent of the orca’s diet. Last year’s production represents half of the 275 million salmon released by the agency in 1989 (page 6). WDFW’s proposal notes that production has fallen “due to funding reductions and new hatchery reform policies.”