Action Item: NOAA meetings on Killer Whale protections… you can testify…

Killer Whale Recovery Needs Urgent Action on Salmon Recovery & Toxic Pollution Control—-People For Puget Sound today urged its members and supporters to tell the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service (NMFS) that protecting Southern Resident killer whales should focus on more critical actions needed to protect orcas in addition to new rules on vessel traffic.

“Although vessel operations can be part of the solution, we are disappointed that NOAA continues to delay on more critical actions like restoring salmon runs, reducing toxic pollutants and reducing noise impacts from sonar,” said Kathy Fletcher, executive director.

“Restoring salmon runs requires removing dams, restoring salmon habitat, requiring land use restrictions, improving water quality, and changing harvest and hatchery practices,” said Fletcher. “Without food, the Southern Resident population will not survive in Puget Sound.”

According to Fletcher, lack of public awareness about Puget Sound issues is one of the major impediments to successful protection and restoration. Whale watching is one activity that reaches thousands of people every year with compelling reasons to protect our marine waters. “It would be supreme irony to focus so intently on restricting whale watching while the whales themselves go extinct for lack of sufficient non-toxic food,” said Fletcher.

The federal agency is holding three public hearings on its proposed new rules on vessel traffic, the first hearing being held Thursday evening in Anacortes.

Regarding the proposed vessel rules:

•    People For Puget Sound supports the distance (200 yards) and no intentional parking in the path of traveling whales
•    People For Puget Sound agrees in concept with a “no-go zone” akin to the Robson Bight protected area in British Columbia, but has concerns about the scientific basis, actual size, exemptions for some types of operations, access to public parks, unintended consequences, feasibility of enforcement, and other questions.
•    People For Puget Sound suggests that NOAA/NMFS convene a vessel operator stakeholder group  that includes commercial fishing operators, container and cruise ship operators, small recreational boat companies, recreational boating and fishing groups, research vessel operators, military, whale watching companies and others to discuss operational issues and ensure that fair treatment is given to all. Tribal fishing operators should also be part of a further consultation process.

According to Fletcher, enforcement is a key pragmatic and fairness issue that should be addressed regarding both existing and proposed regulations.  Without a much-improved strategy for education and enforcement, it makes no sense to increase restrictions.

“One of the major vessel issues is inappropriate and harassing behavior by recreational boaters who are apparently unaware even of the existing limits,” said Fletcher. “Another issue is how to address the international nature of the problem, reaching Canadian boaters and whale watch operators in an effective way.”

The NOAA/NMFS meetings will be:
* Sept. 24, 2009, 7-9 p.m., Pier One Main Warehouse, 100 Commercial Avenue, Anacortes
* Sept. 30, 2009, 7-9 p.m., Seattle Aquarium, Pier 59, Seattle
* Oct. 5, 2009, 7-9 p.m., The Grange Hall, First Street, Friday Harbor

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Save Our Sound.

People For Puget Sound works with people for a clean and healthy Sound. Since 1991 we have protected and restored habitat through education and action. www.pugetsound.org

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