Governor Inslee Signs Slew of Orca Protection Bills – Seattle Times and others

This week saw the signing of a variety of bills that came out of the Orca Task Force, put together by Governor Inslee to identify issues that could theoretically help save the resident Orca pod from extinction. While these bills are not the radical (yet realistic) idea of breaching the Snake River dams as many (including this blog) would like to see, they do address a group of problems that are facing recovery and protection of the Salish Sea.

Senate Bill 5135 was written to allow Department of Ecology to ban certain PCBs and PFAs which cause cancer and are found in high amounts in Orca bodies. They may be hampering the ability for them to have healthy  offspring and also may impact their health. Toxic-Free Future was a champion of this bill. Congratulations to them and their supporters. This has been a long hard fight for many years.

Senate Bill 5577 pushes boats farther away from whales, mandating 300 yard exclusion zones. This is not as far as many in the Orca task force wanted, but is at least better than it is currently. There is huge pressure from whale scientists to push back even further, but the whale watch industry is too powerful for Inslee to override.

The bills digest is as follows:

Finds a person guilty of a natural resource infraction if the person causes a vessel or other object to: (1) Approach within four hundred yards of a southern resident orca whale; or(2) Exceed a speed greater than seven knots over ground at any point located within one-half nautical mile of the whales.

Prohibits commercial whale watching operators from approaching or intercepting within six hundred fifty yards in the direction of the whales.

Requires a commercial whale watching license for businesses engaged in commercial whale watching activities.Requires the department of fish and wildlife to implement a limited-entry whale watching license program for the inland waters of the state for all whale species.

What you don’t see is an implementation of even greater enforcement in this bill. It is understood though that Fish and Wildlife may be getting a bigger budget do that.

House Bill 1578 – This bill strengthens our oil-spill prevention portfolio. As some may remember, this author and many dozens of other environmentalists helped push through the rescue tug at Neah Bay in the last decade, with the help of then Representative Van de Wege. This time, Representative Tharinger was part of the sponsors of the new bill. It’s digest reads:

Creates new requirements designed to reduce the current, acute risk from existing infrastructure and activities of an oil spill that could: (1) Eradicate our southern resident killer whales;(2) Violate the treaty fishing rights of federally recognized Indian tribes;(3) Damage commercial fishing prospects;(4) Undercut many aspects of the economy that depend on the Salish Sea; and(5) Harm the health and well-being of residents.

Declares an intent to spur international discussions among federal, state, provincial, and industry leaders in the United States and Canada to develop an agreement for the shared funding of an emergency rescue tug available to vessels in distress in the narrow Straits of the San Juan Islands and other boundary waters.

Currently tankers bigger than 125k dead weight tons are forbidden inside the Strait, past Dungeness Lighthouse. Tankers from 40 to125K tons dead weight are allowed to operate with tug escort. Currently a huge threat is to tugs towing bunker and other fuels. Some have sunk, such as the barge that spilled out on the coast near Neah Bay some years back.

The new law forces these tankers and tug towing barges to have escort tugs starting in 2020. If the tug or tanker is empty,  they do not need an escort tug.

The bill also strengthens the existing work being done on oil spill preparedness and establishes a new oil spill emergency response system with coordination between the State, U.S. Federal, Tribal and Canadian agencies. While there has been coordination before, this system is new.

There is a new reporting regime for oil processing facilities receiving crude oil shipments by rail, which will require them to report to the state these shipments and their routes. This may end up getting taken into court by the oil industry, as it’s unclear to this author whether the State has authority to require this under current Federal law.

Bill 1579 – While part of this bill allows greater catch limits on predator fish:

The commission shall adopt rules to liberalize bag limits for bass, walleye, and channel catfish in all anadromous waters of the14state in order to reduce the predation risk to salmon smolts.

The real teeth in this bill is the work done by Sound Action and other environmental and tribal lobbyists, along with the Department of Natural Resources to implement much stronger rules and penalties for implementing bulk heads along the nearshore of the Sound.  (full disclosure: this author is Board President of Sound Action as of this writing).

The conversion of shoreline to bulkheads  has been going on with little scientific understanding of the scope of damage to the spawning habitat of forage fish. Forage fish are food for salmon and other larger fish. Sound Action has existed specifically to challenge improper or incomplete Hydraulic Permit Applications (HPAs) from DNR that affect this habitat.

UPDATE BASED ON GOVERNOR’S VETO OF ONE SECTION: While The bill was also helped through by a section on a series of three ‘demonstration’ projects inserted by Senator Van de Wege on behalf of farmers coping with flood plain issues in Watcom, Snohomish and Gray’s Harbor County. Governor Inslee decided that these projects did not come out of the Orca Task force recommendations and were not in alignment with the needs of protecting fish habitat, but rather protecting farm land and exploiting river gravel. His veto of that section was in alignment with the opposition  by environmentalists and Tribes because of the stated intention of the backers of the language to ‘extract gravel’ from these rivers. What is needed in the future to address these problems should involve something similar to  a version of the highly successful Dungeness River Management Team, which brought together all the stakeholders on that river for the last 20 years to identify and then come up with appropriate solutions rather than leap to conclusions not based on science.

Anyone wanting to understand the work that the Dungeness River Management Team has done can view the short video I did for them a few years ago, on their 20th Anniversary.

 

The language that the proponents of Senator Van de Wege’s bill wanted, was to simply move to solution, based on assumptions and not science. They need, as the governor pointed out in his veto to at least have to go through the process to create a team of stakeholders, not just from the farm community, but from individuals and state scientists to come up with appropriate solutions.

So all in all, congratulations to the organizations that spent hundreds of hours in the Orca Task Force, and thanks to Governor Inslee for getting this done and helping drive these key bills into law! We still have a long way to go to save the resident pod, and there is no guarantee any of these bills will actually turn the tide to restore them to health.

https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/environment/gov-inslee-signs-range-of-bills-aimed-at-helping-endangered-orcas/

Columbia River salmon fishing closed.

OLYMPIA – Starting Thursday (Sept. 13), fishing for salmon will be closed on the mainstem Columbia River from Buoy 10 upstream to Hwy 395 in Pasco under new rules approved today by fishery managers from Washington and Oregon

Deep River in Washington and other tributaries in Oregon (Youngs Bay, Tongue Point/South Channel, Blind Slough and Knappa Slough) are also closed to salmon and steelhead angling.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) already prohibited steelhead retention in much of the same area of the Columbia River several weeks ago, and the new emergency rule closes angling for both salmon and steelhead in those waters as well.

Bill Tweit, Columbia River fishery coordinator for WDFW, said the counts of fall chinook at Bonneville Dam are 29 percent below preseason forecasts, and on-going fisheries are approaching the allowable catch limits under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). 

“We recognize that this closure is difficult for anglers, but we have an obligation to meet our ESA goals so that fisheries can continue in the future,” he said.

Tweit said the upriver fall chinook run provides the bulk of the harvest opportunity for fall fisheries, but that returns in recent years has been declining due to unfavorable ocean conditions. The preseason forecast for this year is 47 percent of the 10-year average return of upriver bright fall chinook.

The new emergency fishing rule is posted on WDFW’s website at https://fortress.wa.gov/dfw/erules/efishrules/.

PCC Community Markets Ends Sale of Pacific Northwest Chinook Salmon

From the PCC news site

(September 10, 2018) – Seattle-based PCC Community Markets (PCC), the nation’s largest community-owned food market, announced it has stopped selling all chinook (king) salmon products — fresh, frozen and smoked — caught in the waters of Washington, Oregon or British Columbia. PCC is responding to the needs of the critically endangered Salish Sea southern resident killer whales (SRKW) that feed predominantly on area king salmon during the summer.

SRKWs have historically thrived on chinook from the Columbia River, but with the salmon runs at just 10 percent of their original population, the orcas are relying more on salmon from the Fraser River in British Columbia for sustenance. Chinook runs on the Fraser, as well as the Columbia and Sacramento River in northern California, have declined. In sum: SRKWs lack the food they need to survive.

“Last month, the heartbreaking ordeal of the mother orca, Tahlequah, and her baby touched many of our members and staff,” said Brenna Davis, VP of Social and Environmental Responsibility. “In the midst of it, the PCC leadership team began discussing how and if we could make an impact on this issue. By committing to no longer sell Pacific Northwest chinook salmon, we realize that we will not solve the complex set of issues facing our resident orcas. We are simply doing our part as a co-op to ensure, as we have for decades, that our supply chain protects our region’s vital ecosystems.”

Dedicated to protecting local food systems, PCC has long put into place comprehensive efforts to protect the Salish Sea including:

  • Partnerships with Salmon-Safe certified farms, like Wilcox Family Farms. Salmon Safe is a nonprofit devoted to restoring agricultural and urban watersheds so salmon can spawn and thrive;
  • Donating proceeds of sales of Chinook Wines to “Long Live the Kings,” a local non-profit organization that works to protect chinook salmon;
  • Financial support to organizations working to protect marine ecosystems, such as the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition and Stewardship Partners’ Salmon-Safe certification; and
  • Other efforts including advancing the organic supply chain to keep pesticides and other toxins out of streams, and advocating an end to net-pen fish farms, especially for non-native Atlantic salmon.

In place of Pacific Northwest chinook, PCC will sell Alaskan chinook, which is certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. PCC also will continue to support local fishers by selling other species of Pacific Northwest salmon. To learn more, please visit: https://www.pccmarkets.com/statements/pcc-ends-the-sale-of-pacific-northwest-chinook-salmon/

About PCC Community Markets Founded in Seattle in 1953, PCC Community Markets (PCC) is the nation’s largest community-owned food market with an unmatched enthusiasm for making food from scratch. Celebrating its 65th anniversary in 2018, PCC is a haven for those who share a dedication to fresh, organic seasonal food that is sustainably sourced from local producers, farmers, ranchers and fishers. With an active membership of more than 60,000 households, PCC operates 11 stores in the Puget Sound area, including the cities of Bothell, Burien, Edmonds, Issaquah, Kirkland, Redmond and Seattle. Seattle stores are in the neighborhoods of Columbia City, Fremont, Green Lake, View Ridge and West Seattle, which will reopen in 2019. The co-op also plans to open new stores in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood in 2019 and Bellevue, Madison Valley and Downtown Seattle in 2020.

In 2017, PCC returned 57 percent of its profit to members and contributed an additional 11 percent to the communities it serves, including schools and nonprofits around the Puget Sound area, such as the PCC Farmland Trust and FareStart.


This website called for a ban on eating locally caught wild chinook over on August 18th.   See “One Orca Two Stories. A way forward?”

In it I stated:

One thought is that if the Chinook fishing is still allowed out off LaPush, and the Orcas have gone there, it must be after the fish. So I’m left wondering, if we really wanted to save starving orcas, why on earth are we allowing recreational fishers to catch 3023 fish? As to the ocean limits, according to state F&W, the ocean recreational limits were:

27,500 fish, which is 17,500 fewer fish than 2017’s quota of 45,000.

So this is approximately 30,000 chinook we are catching when the story of the day is that the Orcas can’t find these fish in the Salish Sea. And this is in addition to whatever the seals and sea lions  have been taking, The studies on seals and sea lions show that they eat primarily juvenile salmon, not as much the older ones! However the study concludes that the seals and sea lions are a problem.

Seattle Chefs Tom Douglas, Thierry Rautureau, Renee Erickson and other major chefs in Seattle have also called for and are implementing a boycott on eating local chinook. This one decision will not immediately put a lot of fish back in the water, but it is clear we are competing with the orcas for their food, and it *will* immediately add to the small amount of Chinook available for them. It will not impact Alaskan Chinook. And  you can also order any of the other salmon that are on the menus or in the stores. So support your local fishermen and eat locally caught salmon other than Chinook. It is OK to dry up demand for local Chinook as a gesture to showing that we need action from our government officials. No more talk!

 

Canadian environmental groups call for closure of chinook fisheries and removal of whale watching boats.

Well, I guess my editorial of the other day was just an example of great minds thinking alike (small joke). Here’s our friends north  of the border asking for a closure on chinook. They have also asked for a ban on whale watching boats. More on that in a future post.

The growing realization that southern resident orcas are starving to death has led green groups to urge stronger measures to save them. The David Suzuki Foundation and the Raincoast Conservation Foundation have called for an immediate closure of fishing for chinook salmon on B.C.’s coast. Orcas rely on chinook to survive and it’s their preferred prey…. Under the Pacific Salmon Treaty, up to two million chinook are caught each year on both sides of the border. According to the environmental groups, the southern resident orca population requires about 1,400 chinook each day to remain alive. Charlie Smith reports. (Georgia Straight)

Environmental groups call for closure of chinook fisheries to preserve endangered southern resident orcas

From the David Suzuki Foundation:

We’re asking the minister to close all chinook fishing and expand foraging refuges to cover critical habitat, and to prohibit fisheries until the end of October. Recovery plans are needed for the orcas’ food source, chinook salmon. Whale-watching operations and private vessels must also be prevented from targeting these critically endangered whales.

 

 

One Orca, two stories. A way forward?

Over the last few days, I saw two stories that really drove the message home to me that we are very likely to fail at saving the Southern Resident Killer Whales without new thinking, outside the box. And it’s really not a box, but about outside the silos. It’s not some dire story of good and bad guys. Just a reflection of what is our lack of being able to look at the big picture instead of silos of interests. One silo is the scientists along with the Tribes, the other is the sports fishing community and it’s state of Washington Fish and Wildlife people. My intent is not be critical of either side but to point out a gap that is likely going to doom efforts to support the Orca.

Over the last week, the Seattle Times and many other news outlets, covered the story of J50. J50 is the SRKW that is in poor health. Scientists and members of the Lummi Nation, are trailing around with the whales with live hatchery Chinook (King) salmon, the Orcas most favored food (though it prefers them wild from either the Frasier or Columbia river. This  is likely because, over thousands of years, these two river systems deposited the strongest and largest population of wild Chinook, every year like clockwork until white Europeans  arrived about 200 years ago, give or take 50 years. We all know what happened next. ) They are doing this because it is, to the best of our knowledge, that there is not enough Chinook salmon for the Orcas to survive. So they are bringing the salmon to the Orcas in order to see if they can nurse J50 back to health. A  noble and worthy effort.

So while the scientists and tribal members were doing their best to feed this wild animal,  another story caught my eye. The closing of salmon fishing for the summer by the State of Washington.

The Peninsula Daily News reported “Chinook Season Wraps Up”. The article stated:

SALTWATER CHINOOK FISHING has closed for the season for the bulk of the North Olympic Peninsula — while remaining open to hatchery Chinook retention off of La Push and south of Ayock Point in Hood Canal. The state estimated … chinook guideline estimates show that anglers caught 61.7 percent of the 4,900 kings allotted (3,023).

One thought is that if the Chinook fishing is still allowed out off LaPush, and the Orcas have gone there, it must be after the fish. So I’m left wondering, if we really wanted to save starving orcas, why on earth are we allowing recreational fishers to catch 3023 fish? As to the ocean limits, according to state F&W, the ocean recreational limits were:

 27,500 fish, which is 17,500 fewer fish than 2017’s quota of 45,000.

So this is approximately 30,000 chinook we are catching when the story of the day is that the Orcas can’t find these fish in the Salish Sea. And this is in addition to whatever the seals and sea lions  have been taking, The studies on seals and sea lions show that they eat primarily juvenile salmon, not as much the older ones! However the study concludes that the seals and sea lions are a problem.

See https://www.earthfix.info/news/article/puget-sound-orcas-salmon-sea-lions-seals-food-study/

and

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-14984-8

 

I have not seen the numbers of the commercial and tribal catch of chinook, but I’m sure it’s higher than 3023 fish.  The State F&W web site stated this spring:

In meeting conservation objectives for wild salmon, the co-managers are limiting fisheries in areas where southern resident killer whales are known to feed. The adjustments will aid in minimizing boat presence and noise, and decrease competition for chinook and other salmon in areas critical to the declining whales, said WDFW.

This seems to say that they state only wants to restrict fishing in the areas where we know the Orca feed. Well, according to what I’ve read, they travel all over the Sound to feed, which is why we see them off Seattle, Tacoma and many other locations. To restrict fishing to some area that they spend more time in seems to be an arbitrary idea of humans as so as to allow fishing to continue.

The facts on the ground (or sea) remain. Some orcas are starving. Many scientists believe we are on the edge of the end of these whales, because the breeding pairs are just too small a number to survive. Calves are dying at birth or shortly after. The Governor has stated that it is unacceptable to lose them and radical ideas need to be implemented. He has dozens of people working on a plan. In the meantime, thousands of chinook are being caught and eaten by us, who have other sources of protein! 

Do we really want to save the resident orcas? Then instead of chasing them with a boat with a few live fish on it, maybe we should consider not competing with them for their food source. Just for a few years, maybe a decade. we may also have to cull sea lions and seals for a few decades to see if it also helps put more fish in the sea, more to placate the fishing interests that routinely claim that they are one of the main competing mammals out there.  The sea lions and seals seem to have rebounded and if the scientists say that a cull of some size is warranted, then let’s do it. Then scientifically see  if things improve. We have alternatives for salmon from Alaska. We don’t need to stop eating the fish. Consider putting a moratorium on catching them in the inland waters and the coast  for five to ten years.This is not a new idea It’s been done all over the world to recover decimated fish stocks. They are called Marine Reserves . It’s a controversial topic to be sure, but it seems to map to our current needs to save the Orcas by giving them more food. And it’s been an idea that many old time fishermen I’ve personally talked to say is needed.

I say this as someone who has done salmon fishing in the Sound in the past, who ate salmon twice in the last three days (and likely will have leftovers of it tomorrow), and who’s son is an avid sports-fisherman with a small boat.

A moratorium is  the fastest way to give more fish to the whales. All other means, whether radical protection of the shorelines, tearing down dams or whatever, will take decades.   But it will take a lot willingness by various groups to put the long range health of salmon ahead of their own short term financial gain and personal pleasure fishing.  Anyone willing to give it a try? If not, why not?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring Chinook return to the Skokomish River to start a new salmon run – Watching our Waterways

Good early results from a new hatchery on the Skokomish river. The survival rates of hatchery raised fish have been questioned by groups like Long Live the Kings, in long running surveys comparing the success of wild fish in the Rogue River in Oregon vs. the Skagit River hatchery raised fish. But it’s still one of the only options left as we destroy our climate with fossil fuel use and the long term effects of a variety of human caused problems. We certainly wish them luck!

For the first time in decades, an early run of Chinook salmon has returned to the Skokomish River in southern Hood Canal.

Read the whole story here;

https://pugetsoundblogs.com/waterways/2018/07/27/spring-chinook-return-to-the-skokomish-river-to-start-a-new-salmon-run/

 

Pesticides and salmon: Can we see a light at the end of the tunnel? – Watching Our Water Ways

Once again, the National Marine Fisheries Service has determined in official findings that three common pesticides — chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion — raise the risk of extinction for threatened and endangered salmon. By extension, for the first time, the agency also concluded that those same pesticides threaten Puget Sound’s endangered orca population by putting their prey — chinook and other salmon — at risk. This politically and legally charged issue — which has been around for more than 15 years — has gone beyond a debate over potential harm from pesticides. It also raises uncomfortable questions about whether our society will follow science as we try to solve environmental problems. Chris Dunagan reports. (Watching Our Water Ways)

https://pugetsoundblogs.com/waterways/2018/01/16/pesticides-and-salmon-can-we-see-a-light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel/

Salmon fishing restrictions may get ‘severe’ – KING

It appears that we are going to need to take more draconian steps to save the remaining Chinook. While no one wants to see salmon fishing undergo more restrictions, it’s better than not having any of the fish left here. California already is in that situation.

A salmon fishing agreement between the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and tribal co-managers is fueling continued angst by many recreational fishermen who fear it will force severe closures. The Comprehensive Management Plan for Puget Sound Chinook was recently released after a long secret court mediation process. If approved, it could place severe restrictions on salmon fishing around Puget Sound. Because the plan was reached in secret, it’s also reignited a rallying cry for transparency from WDFW and tribal co-managers…. Both the Attorney General’s office and representatives from WDFW explained that the mediation process required non-disclosure from all parties. If approved by NOAA, the plan would reduce the exploitation rate from 12 percent to 8 percent on wild Chinook for the next 10 years. That means only 8 percent of the wild Chinook expected to return to their natal streams can be impacted by fishing. Alison Morrow reports/ (KING)

http://www.king5.com/article/news/local/salmon-fishing-restrictions-may-get-severe/281-498970670

An excellent overview of the state of the salmon in Puget Sound

Chris Dunagan is one of the best reporters in the Pacific NW covering the Salish Sea. Here’s a great overview of the state of the salmon.

Are we making progress on salmon recovery?

In recent decades, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent to restore habitat for Puget Sound salmon. In this article, we look at how scientists are gauging their progress. Are environmental conditions improving or getting worse? The answer may depend on where you look and who you ask. Chris Dunagan reports. (Salish Sea Currents)

https://www.eopugetsound.org/magazine/is/salmon-recovery

Return of the kings! Chinook salmon observed in undammed portion of Elwha River – Park & PDN

As the old saying goes, “nature abhors a vacuum”. The Olympic National Park have announced (and reported and commented on by The Peninsula Daily News) that chinook (King) salmon have been spotted above the site of the lower of the two dams that have been removed. This is the first time in almost a century that they have been able to reach this location. In addition to the Kings, Steelhead have also been seen in above the first dam.

The power of restoration again shows that once a place has been restored, nature tries and fill it, if the species still are alive.

The news bulletin from the park
http://www.nps.gov/olym/parknews/return-of-the-kings.htm

Additional information on the story at the PDN.

http://peninsuladailynews.com/article/20120821/NEWS/308219989/return-of-the-kings-chinook-salmon-observed-in-undammed-portion-of

Thoughts on Salmon– Saving them, catching them

This week’s editorial by People For Puget Sound’s Tom Bancroft, addresses the question, “Is Salmon Extinction the Option?”

How are salmon doing in Puget Sound?  Turns out, Chinook salmon are not doing too well according to a report recently released by NOAA, not any better now than 10 years ago when salmon species in Puget Sound were listed on the Endangered Species List. NOAA’s recent report highlights that we are still losing more habitat than restoring and have not addressed toxic pollutant runoff to a sufficient level to reverse the adverse effects of toxic pollutants on fish survival.

The causes are many. Growing population around the Sound, destruction of salmon habitat, sometimes by people with the best of intentions, sometimes by raw greed, sometimes by lack of regulations and sometimes by lack of enforcement of the regulations. A century of storm water runoff that will take a century more to fix. And lets’ not forget that all major sewage systems, even treated, are dumped into the Sound.

It’s not enough to say that we want to save the salmon, a huge public resource that could have been managed for generations to come to have low cost protein, but we have squandered that opportunity decades ago, and now it’s time to do what we can to bring them back.

The Good News:

Watching the salmon derby winners on the Strait of Juan de Fuca bring in good sized fish, really huge for these days, In Gardiner, in February, 18 to 20 lb fish were caught, in Anacortes 16 to 18lb fish were caught, and in B.C. at the Juan de Fuca derby outside of Victoria, the top fish was 40 lbs, and the top ten all topped 25! This derby has raised over $200k (Canadian) to support salmon enhancement activities.

The study by NOAA that Tom mentions in his blog, states that “The Co-Managers (the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Puget Sound Treaty Tribes, collectively) met or exceeded the harvest management performance measures required in the 2004 Harvest Management Plan.

But there are deep concerns, the study states:

  • Habitat is still declining.
  • Habitat protection still needs improvement
  • Habitat restoration is heavily tilted towards capital intensive projects (think Elwha Dam).
  • Funding levels are inadequate to achieve restoration of Chinook populations.
  • Staffing for core programs remains insufficient.
  • There is no process in place to recognize changes that are being made to recovery plan strategies as implementation proceeds. 
  • The Hatchery programs remain critically underfunded.

How big could Chinook get? In 2008 a California Fish and Game Wildlife Biologist found what is thought to be the largest Chinook in modern times. It had spawned and died, and it’s body was found.

chinook-giant-salmon-battle-creek-1-emailsize

Unaltered photo of actual Chinook body found in California in 2008. Notice the kind of habitat behind them. It’s not developed.

Your support in helping local officials and non profits that are working to achieve these goals, including adoption of strong Shoreline Master Programs and Critical Areas Ordinances go a long way to helping protect our remaining salmon habitat and someday possibly seeing Chinook such as this in our Olympic Peninsula streams. 

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