The Pacific Fishery Management Council has recommended reducing impacts of fishing to southern resident killer whales by limiting nontribal commercial and recreational fishing at certain locations off the West Coast in years when Chinook salmon abundance north of Cape Falcon, Ore., falls below a threshold level.

The threshold for reduced fishing is the average of the seven lowest years of forecasted Chinook salmon abundance off the coast of Washington and northern Oregon, which is currently calculated at 966,000 fish. Chinook numbers have not fallen below that threshold since 2007.

NOAA Fisheries is proposing to adopt the recommendation, which includes closing an expanded area of the Columbia River control zone to salmon retention until June 15 in years when Chinook numbers are low.

If the recommendation is adopted, nontribal salmon fishing would also be closed during certain times in coastal waters of Grays Harbor and the Klamath and Monterey rivers; delayed between Cape Falcon and the California-Oregon border; and fishing quotas would be reduced north of Cape Falcon, Ore., during low threshold years.

The recommendation is the result of a work group created by PFMC with representation from states, tribes and NOAA Fisheries.

Southern resident killer whales are endangered. Two of the three pods spend much of the winter and spring foraging different runs of salmon and other fish species ranging from waters off the coast of Northern California to southeast Alaska while the third pod forages on a mix of salmon stocks in inland waters and off the coast of Canada. The reduction in fishing in years when Chinook numbers are low is designed to provide additional salmon to meet the prey needs of 75 orcas.

NOAA Fisheries says it included recent research about when and where orcas forage, and their preferred prey. The agency has undergone consultation under the Endangered Species Act to ensure the proposal does not jeopardize threatened or endangered species, or negatively impact their critical habitat.

Public comments on the proposed amendment to the Pacific Coast Salmon Fisheries Management Plan will be accepted until Aug. 2.

In addition to making this recommendation, PFMC will reconsider conservation objectives for Sacramento and Klamath river fall Chinook that could lead to higher goals for salmon returns and provide more salmon for West Coast fishing and orcas.

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K.C. Mehaffey covers fish issues for Clearing Up, and is editor of the NW Fishletter. She joined the NewsData writing team in February 2018. From lawsuits to scientific studies, she is enjoying the deep dive into the Columbia Basin's many fish topics.