Washington Legislators Propose $1.55 Million Program To Feed Orcas

Orcas are in trouble due to a lack of food, but could this proposed government program help?

Tucked away inland south of Olympia, Washington, the Skookumchuck salmon hatchery has been raising and releasing juvenile salmon into the wild to shore up the state’s flagging fish populations for the past 38 years. Its efforts have had little to do with the 76 endangered, fish-eating southern resident killer whales (SRKW) that live in the northeast Pacific, straddling the border between Washington and British Columbia.

But if a new bill working its way through the Washington State legislature gets the go-ahead, Skookumchuck will soon turn part of its gaze from raising salmon for fishers, to breeding salmon to feed the struggling whales. It’s an ambitious and expensive plan—and its success is far from guaranteed.

Each year, Skookumchuck sends roughly 100,000 juvenile coho salmon and 100,000 steelhead smolts down the Skookumchuck and Chehalis Rivers to Grays Harbor, on Washington’s west coast. Most of these fish are caught in fishers’ nets or eaten by predators. But each year, an average of 3,100 adult fish return and are recaptured by the hatchery and used to breed the next generation.

Photo: Mike Baird/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

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