Complaint filed by Wild Fish Conservancy and Center for Food Safety against NOAA Fisheries for mismanaging West Coast salmon fisheries and harming critically endangered Southern Resident killer whales, a violation of the Endangered Species Act. The lawsuit seeks to compel the NOAA Fisheries to assess and reduce the threat to the endangered orcas from salmon fishing off Washington, Oregon and California. Southern Residents are also threatened by pollution and disturbance from vessel traffic.

Background from complaint:

“The Pacific Coast Fishery Management Plan (“Pacific Salmon Plan”) governs management of commercial and recreational salmon fisheries in federal waters off the coast of Washington, Oregon, and California from 3 to 200 nautical miles offshore. The Pacific Salmon Plan is adopted by the Pacific Fishery Management Council and approved by the Secretary of Commerce. It contains management measures and allocation provisions for Chinook, coho, and pink salmon. The Council first issued a Pacific Salmon Plan in 1977. The current version of the Pacific Salmon Plan consists of the 1984 comprehensive framework amendment of the Plan through the most recent Amendment 19, approved by the Secretary of Commerce in 2016.

Fisheries authorized under the Pacific Salmon Plan reduce the abundance of the Southern Resident killer whales’ predominant prey by over 300,000 Chinook per year and can directly interfere with feeding behavior, which causes the orcas to forage for longer periods, to travel to alternate locations, or to abandon foraging efforts.

The Fisheries Service continues to rely on an outdated 2009 biological opinion to authorize salmon fisheries along the West coast under the Pacific Salmon Plan. From 2009 to present, scientists have produced significant new information about Southern Resident killer whales, the reasons for their decline from 85 animals in 2009 to just 75 today, their relationship to salmon, and the impacts of prey depletion on their survival and recovery.

The Fisheries Service’s failure to reinitiate and complete consultation on the impacts of the Pacific Salmon Plan fisheries on Southern Resident killer whales violates the Endangered Species Act. The Fisheries Service is failing to ensure that its authorization of Pacific Coast salmon fisheries under the Pacific Salmon Plan does not jeopardize the survival and recovery of Southern Resident killer whales.

Accordingly, Plaintiffs seek an order from this Court establishing a prompt deadline for the Fisheries Service to reinitiate and complete consultation for Southern Resident killer whales and to implement mitigation measures to benefit the orcas.”

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