Rivers’ ‘more salmon for all’ bill set for Thursday public hearing

Adapting Alaska’s innovative hatchery approach could help feed orca sooner

Legislation that could lead to a dramatic increase in the number of salmon in Washington waters and boost the food supply for Puget Sound’s southern resident orcas will come before the Senate’s natural-resources committee at 1:30 Thursday afternoon.

The bipartisan bill is aimed at supporting the creation of a new private-public salmon hatchery in Bellingham, modeled after an approach that has proven to be productive and financially self-sustaining in Alaska.

Sen. Ann Rivers is prime sponsor of Senate Bill 6509, known as the Salmon Repopulation Act. She sees it as the most effective action lawmakers can take on behalf of the endangered orca as well as the commercial fishers, sport fishers, tribes and others in Washington who would benefit from having more salmon return to the state’s waterways.

“So far the things that have either been approved or proposed in the name of helping the orca tend to be restrictive, like putting more limits on whale-watching tours, or destructive – meaning the idea of breaching dams,” said Rivers, R-La Center. “I think the bipartisan support for this bill is due to its positive approach. What could be divisive or controversial about producing more fish in a way that would respect the environment and be a good investment for taxpayers?

“Our state has a robust hatchery program but the operation I saw in Alaska this past summer is at another level. I have no doubt this is the fastest and also the smartest way to make more salmon available for the orca to eat,” she added. “I’m convinced it can be adapted to our state, and the Port of Bellingham has the ideal location. The people who can make this happen have come to the table in recent weeks. The Legislature simply needs to say yes – and it needs to be this year, so the pilot project can get going. The orca can’t wait.”