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Sustainable Fishing? Tell that to the Orcas

By: Dave Swartz

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A few weeks ago I had the chance to visit the San Juan Islands of Washington State. These islands are known for their natural beauty, blue ocean waters, rolling country hills, and of course the local Orca whale population. On a visit to Lime Kiln Point Whale Watch Park, the only land based whale watching park in the country, I had a chance and to stop and hear one of the marine biologists speak about the current state of the local Orca population. I learned quite a few interesting facts such as the matriarch of the Puget Sound J pod being an estimated 105 years old.

I also learned about the resident pods and the transient pods and how each pod had their own unique culture. For instance, the transient pods that venture through the area from time to time not only feed on salmon but also other marine life such as seals. However, the resident pods feed exclusively on Chinook salmon. Unfortunately, the numbers of Orcas in the Puget Sound are declining and scientists say the number one reason for this is due to the lack of availability of salmon.

My next question to the marine biologist was “What is causing the decline in salmon?” It turns out that the number one reason for the decline in salmon is competition with commercial fishing.

In the years since I gave up eating animals I’m not sure if I gave it much thought that I was taking food from someone that actually needs it, I always thought of the animal that was being directly consumed by humans. With beef cattle or farm pigs, I have never had the thought of “If I eat this animal, will its natural predators have nothing to eat?” I believe this is because our “natural environment” has been manipulated to a point that there are no wild species whose main food sources are farmed land animals meant for human consumption. Needless to say that is not the case with fish. This particular pod of Orcas depend on salmon for survival as it is the only food source they eat. If they don’t have enough salmon they will die. Humans in this country and many other countries have the option to go to a grocery store and choose a healthy alternative to fish. Orcas do not have that luxury. If you needed another reason to give up eating fish besides the fact that fish are extremely high in cholesterol and loaded with toxic chemicals such as mercury and over 80% of the world’s fish stocks are considered fully exploited or depleted, you now have it.