The problem is that no one is sure how many Chinook the orcas need to maintain a healthy population, The Seattle Times reported Friday. This month, members of the J pod of killer whales, one of three pods totaling under 100 members that comprise the endangered southern resident killer whale community, were spotted off Vashon Island. Their appearance suggests they may spend more time in the Washington state sound in winter than scientists previously believed.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has now asked Washington state and Indian tribes that fish in the area to submit a two-year plan, state officials said. The agency also asked them to join in studies of Chinook and killer whales for the next two years.
Recent studies have also suggested the whales need more Chinook in summer than previously thought. Scientists had also believed they left Puget Sound entirely in the winter, although they did not know where they go.
Fishermen say the NOAA is putting the entire burden on them.
"You can't bring back orcas just on the backs of fishermen," said Joel Kawahara, who fishes commercially in Washington and Alaska. "What about improving habitat? What about the effects of the dams on the Columbia River?"