Saving the orca, and doing it right

The following newsletter was sent to Sen. Ericksen’s subscribers Feb. 12. To subscribe to Sen. Ericksen’s newsletters, click here.

Innovative ‘Alaska model’ for hatcheries boosts jobs in Whatcom County

  • Ericksen bill promotes investment in new Puget Sound hatcheries
  • Pilot project would be built in Bellingham
  • Best way to ensure adequate feedstock for Puget Sound orcas

Some people want you to believe that saving the orca is a complicated problem that will require costly and drastic measures, like tearing down the Snake River dams. But there’s a better way to feed the killer whales of Puget Sound, and we can build our economy as we do it.

I have introduced Senate Bill 5824, which would bring the Alaska model for hatchery management to Washington state. This highly successful approach utilizes private investment to operate hatcheries, financed by the sale of returning fish.

Under this bill, the first hatchery would be built at the old Georgia-Pacific site on the Bellingham waterfront, under the Port of Bellingham. The Department of Fish and Wildlife would be directed to pursue further opportunities for private organizations to build and operate fish hatcheries, either independently or in partnership with the state.

Tearing down dams, major land grabs and land-use restrictions are not the answer. Improving our hatchery system not only would feed the orca, it would provide more opportunities for commercial and recreational fishing, more tourism, and more good-paying jobs in our communities. By harnessing the power of the marketplace, we can rebuild the salmon and orca population on Puget Sound, and boost the economy of Whatcom County and Washington state.

State-of-the-art hatchery would be built on a 237-acre site being redeveloped by the Port and City of Bellingham.

Bringing the Alaska model to Washington state

As a newly appointed member of the Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force, I am interested in ideas that will bring a quick turnaround in our declining orca population. Unfortunately, many proposals are more interested in enacting a political agenda than in saving the whales. Bringing the Alaska model to Washington state offers the most direct and cost-effective solution.

In this state, our current hatcheries are owned and operated by the state. In Alaska, most are operated by private non-profit corporations. Some are under private ownership and some are owned by the state. These hatcheries pay for themselves. They release nearly 100 million fish each year, and account for half the commercial catch – giving Alaska one of the healthiest fisheries in the world.

  • In 2017, just 17 percent of salmon returns from a major hatchery in Juneau were required to cover operating costs. The remaining fish benefited commercial and sport fisheries.
  • Alaska hatcheries use local species, but are carefully managed to avoid mingling of wild and hatchery stock.
  • The Juneau hatchery has become a major tourist attraction, and has become an important educational resource for the region.

We can bring the same benefits here. A new hatchery on the Bellingham waterfront and remote release sites would increase the food supply for southern resident orcas and reduce pressure on wild stocks. We can take advantage of research into west-coast hatchery management to design and build the best salmon hatchery in the world.

Recommended reading

The Spokesman-Review: A statewide plastic bag ban doesn’t make sense

The (Longview) Daily News: Lawmakers support pesticides for oyster beds

Seattle Times: Washington voters said yes to tough new gun law; at least 13 county sheriffs say no to enforcing it

The (Vancouver) Columbian: Sen. Wilson bill would change key word in Growth Management Act

Walla Walla Union-Bulletin: Unchecked state Salary Commission must be abolished

Seattle Times: EPA ices Washington state’s effort to regulate hot water in Columbia, Snake Rivers

Jason Rantz in UW tried to derail Republican group speech at last minute


Contact us!


Phone: (360) 786-7682

Mail: P.O. Box 40442, Olympia, WA 98504