Whale-watching ban among bills introduced to protect orcas

Several bills have been introduced in the state legislature in response to the recommendations from the Governor's Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force. The task force addressed prey availability, vessel noise and pollution. 

HB 1578 -  Reducing threats to southern resident killer whales by improving the safety of oil transportation. This bill is sponsored by 40th District Representatives Debra Lekanoff and Jeff Morris

Require that an emergency response towing vessel be stationed  in the vicinity of the San Juan Islands and be able to respond immediately to a vessel in distress in Haro Strait, Boundary Pass,  Rosario Strait, and connected navigable waterways;

Effective October 1, 2019, oil tankers of less than 40,000 metric deadweight tons, and articulated tug barges and  waterborne vessels or barges of greater than 5,000 metric  deadweight tons may operate in Rosario Strait and connected waterways  to the east only if the vessel is under the escort of a tug or tugs  that have an aggregate shaft horsepower equivalent to at least five percent of the metric deadweight tons of a 40,000 metric  deadweight ton oil tanker.

By December 31, 2025, the board of pilotage commissioners, in consultation with the department of ecology, must adopt rules  regarding tug escorts to address the peculiarities of Puget Sound for  oil tankers of less than 40,000 metric deadweight tons,  articulated tug barges, and waterborne vessels or barges of greater  than 5,000 metric deadweight tons operating in the waters  east of the line extending from Discovery Island light south to New  Dungeness light and all points in the Puget Sound area.

The bill has been referred to the House Environment and Energy committee. PDF of HB 1578

The Senate companion bill SB 5578  is scheduled for a public hearing at 10 a.m. Tuesday, January 29 in the Senate Committee on Environment, Energy and Technology in Olympia. The hearing can be viewed online.  PDF of SB 5578


HB 1579- Implementing recommendations of the southern resident killer whale task force related to increasing chinook abundance. Debra Lekanoff is one of the sponsors of this bill. A hearing will be held on  at 10 a.m. Tuesday, January 29 in the  House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources in Olympia.

The bill addresses hydraulic projects. Changes include: "The department may levy civil penalties of up to ten thousand  dollars for every violation of this chapter or of the rules that implement this chapter. Each and every violation is a separate and distinct civil offense." PDF of HB 1579

A public hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday, January 29 in the House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, and Natural Resources in Olympia.


HB 1580 - Concerning the protection of southern resident orca whales from vessels. Jeff Morris  is one of the sponsors of this bill.

This bill includes a three-year ban for commercial whale-watching and new rules regarding vessel speed. Here are some excerpts:

It is unlawful for a person to cause a vessel or other object to exceed a speed greater than  seven knots over ground at any point located within one-half nautical   mile (1,013 yards) of a southern resident orca whale.

Commercial whale watching operators are prohibited from  approaching or intercepting within 650 yards in any  direction of a southern resident orca whale until January 1, 2023. 

A commercial whale watching license is required for all businesses engaged in commercial whale watching activities as permitted in section 4 of this act.

(1) A commercial whale watching license is required for all  businesses engaged in commercial whale watching activities as permitted in section 4 of this act.31 32

(2) The initial annual fee for a commercial whale watching license involving motorized or sailing vessels is:

(a) One to 24 passengers, $425

(b) 25-50 passengers, $625

(c) 51-100 passengers, $925

(d) 100-150 passengers, $1,925; and

(e) 151 passengers or greater, $2,925

(3) The initial annual fee for commercial whale watching license  involving kayaks is $425.

(4) The application fee for a commercial whale watching license is $75

The bill was referred to Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources committee. PDF of text of HB 1580

The companion bill in the Senate is SB 5577  The bill was referred to the senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks committee.  PDF OF SB 5577

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