Town, Port, Visitors Bureau and Chamber object to proposed whale-watching boat tours moratorium

  • Written by  Farhad Ghatan, Mayor, Town of Friday Harbor Greg Hertel, President, Friday Harbor Port Commission Carl Silvernail, President, San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau Board Gail Schnee, President, San Juan Island Chamber of Commerce Board
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A letter objecting to the possibility of a moratorium on the whale-watching industry in order to reduce the harm to the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales - J, K and L pods - was sent to Governor Inslee by town, port, Visitor Bureau and Chamber of Commerce officials. Each organization profits from the whale-watching industry either through sales taxes, moorage fees, or personal business. Before listing their concerns about the financial impact a moratorium, they state, "We by no means value dollars over whales."

The full text of the letter follows: 

November 13, 2018

Dear Governor Inslee,

Thank you for caring enough about our iconic killer whales to convene the Southern Resident Killer Whale (SRKW) Recovery & Task Force. We realize that a healthy ecosystem protects our whales and our tourism economy, and we understand that the solutions are often as complex as the issues. The Town of Friday Harbor, Port of Friday Harbor, the San Juan Island Chamber of Commerce, and the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau, as business organizations, are writing in regards to the SRKW whale watching moratorium proposed at last week’s Orca Recovery Task Force meeting.

We by no means value dollars over whales. Our roles are to speak up and put issues on the table when asked to do so by members of the business community.

While we readily acknowledge that whale watching tour boats are a contributing factor to vessel disturbance, we have a concern about this proposed moratorium, based on feedback we’ve received, which we urge you to consider before moving forward. The moratorium was not part of the draft proposals open to general public comment, and was voted on at the last minute without the benefit of written public and scientific input and open debate by the Task Force. This leads us to important questions:

Whether the additional enforcement challenges of the moratorium for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife have been adequately considered? Is this the best ROI for recovery dollars?

Was the best available science used to establish this recommendation? We have heard comments from respected marine scientists who disagree with it.

Can we realistically expect the average fishing vessel, kayak or pleasure boat owner to know the difference between Bigg’s killer whales (transients) and SRKWs?

Will eliminating SRKW whale watching put more pressure on non-SRKW whales in the region?

Has the disproportionate economic effect of the moratorium on the tourism economy of the San Juan Islands, compared to other regions in Puget Sound, been considered? It’s difficult and costly to counteract headlines like “Whale Watching Moratorium in the San Juan Islands!”

We support the Task Force’s Recommendation #18: Establishing a limited-entry whale watching permit system on both sides of the border. And we believe the permits should apply to all whales, not just the SRKWs. We applaud the introduction of “quiet days” and the suggestion of capping the number of vessels around the whales along with limiting the number of trips per day. We hope these recommendations will still be considered as the package moves towards legislation.

We realize this moratorium is just one of a suite of proposed recommendations and encourage measures which will quickly allot more Chinook salmon to the SRKW as the single most important action in the short-term. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Farhad Ghatan, Mayor, Town of Friday Harbor

Greg Hertel, President, Friday Harbor Port Commission

Carl Silvernail, President, San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau Board

Gail Schnee, President, San Juan Island Chamber of Commerce Board

 

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