What the heck is going on with the WFC Lawsuit?

On December 13, 2022 federal Magistrate Michelle Peterson issued a recommendation to close both the winter and summer Chinook fisheries until the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) revises its 2019 Biological Opinion that authorizes the Alaska troll fishery. Magistrate Peterson’s recommendations must be adopted by federal Judge Richard Jones before becoming a final decision. ATA’s attorney, the State of Alaska and NMFS will be filing objections for Judge Jones to review prior to making his final decision.

The WFC lawsuit ignores a host of lethal pollution and habitat issues in Puget Sound and southern British Columbia water quality issues, adjacent sport fisheries, noise disruption and other population pressures on the orcas to target a low volume, small boat fishery operating 1000 miles away.  No other environmental groups have joined in the suit.

The WFC’s misguided lawsuit aimed at shutting down the troll fishery will do nothing to improve the Southern Resident orca’s low population numbers. Numerous studies show that industrial pollution, habitat loss, noise disruption caused by industrial marine traffic and commercial whale watching vessels and other factors associated with human population pressure in Puget Sound, where the whales live are the factors driving decline.  Other killer whale populations that feed on Chinook salmon are thriving. What is the difference? They do not live in the polluted, crowded Puget Sound environment. 

At this point the status of our winter and summer Chinook fishery is unknown until Judge Jones issues a final decision. There is no set time line but it is anticipated that the final decision may occur some time between February and April. Magistrate Peterson’s recommendations do, however, create a serious risk of losing portions of the winter and some or all of the summer Chinook fishery in 2023. It is unknown whether NMFS will be able to revise its Biological Opinion prior to the summer season.