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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

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 the Town of Friday Harbor, Port of Friday Harbor, 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.


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



  • Janet Thomas Monday, 19 November 2018 12:23 Comment Link Report

    It is extremely difficult to face a loss in income. This is making itself evident in too many ways to count--here in the islands as well as around the world. Corporatized consciousness is destroying the planet, It feels as though it has become its own religion-in-the-name-of-capitalistic-greed-and-entitlement. And it is doing so here in the heart of our fragile island archipelago eco-system. It is heartbreakingly tragic. The tourism industry and the whale-watching interests could actually take the lead in saving the future instead of continuing the path of destruction. Authentic eco-tourism is rising in places all around the globe--and people want to visit those places for that very reason. They want to be part of the solution--not a continuing part of the problem. Why cannot San Juan County become part of the future? A "Save the Whales" tourism ethic could prevent additional noise and contamination of already too-noisy & contaminated waters, return their home waters to the Southernn Residents, offer a motivational example to the rest of the world, help to preserve the integrity of these sacred island and their sacred waters, and offer a spirit-lifting, nature-connecting experience that goes far beyond a high-speed photo-op. We were not here first. And being here last means desecration of people, place and planet.

    There are only two options: Continued exploitation that contributes to bank accounts and SRKW extinction. Or a community-wide effort to transform the system to one that serves the future of the planet--the SRKWs locally and the rest of life globally. I remember my time out whale-watching. It was a blissfully peaceful and reflective time of connection with others and the natural world--until word came re: the SRKWs whereabouts. It then became a high-speed noisy chase through the waters that destroyed the very peaceful and transformative nature of our experience. These are monumentally difficult and challenging times. If there is to be a future on this planet, it will be through offering peace and quiet, contemplation and connection, and the intrinsic reward of being part of the solution. All is in place for this to be possible--right here in San Juan County. All we have to do is put love-of-life before love-of-money.

  • Jean Behnke Sunday, 18 November 2018 22:58 Comment Link Report

    In this recent letter to Governor Inslee all of these organizations represented are being disingenuous in stating "We by no means value dollars over whales." The Chamber of Commerce and the Visitor's Bureau in Friday Harbor are essentially lobbyists for local economic expansion and growth on San Juan Island. The driving force behind this letter is pressure from the PWWA. For these invested COMMERCIAL BUSINESSES it's all about bringing in tourist dollars over the whales, and the whale attraction bringing in the dollars is dying. We all need to wake up and put them first, tourists will still flood to the islands to see them from shore and buy t-shirts.

    I also wrote a letter recently to our Governor and sent it to a few others as well. This is my letter written Nov 4th:

    "Dear Governor Jay Inslee,

    Thank you for your vision and leadership on behalf of the SRKW. In light of current pressures from the PWWA and the SJI Chamber of Commerce, I am writing to support protection of the Resident Orca after extensive consideration, input and deliberation by the Task Force. The arguments currently being presented by the PWWA through the SJI Visitor's Bureau are clearly biased and based solely on the self-interests of the whale watching industry. The PWWA is using the platform of the SJI Chamber of Commerce to blatantly place their own businesses directly above the welfare of the failing resident Orca population. An ethical business would not do this.

    Many residents in San Juan County support the Task Force recommendation for an immediate Moratorium on all commercial whale watching along with important long-term planning re: restoration of foraging areas and Chinook salmon as well as oil spill protection and cleaning up the Salish Sea. Many residents of San Juan County are also outraged that the owners and operators of these whale watching companies defend following, chasing and herding the Orca in our marine neighborhood. For years, many San Juan County residents have felt intimidated to speak out in defense- this kind of intimidation from the whale watching community does not belong in our islands and should not be perpetuated by any business including the San Juan Island Chamber of Commerce and Visitor's Bureau or any elected official like the Mayor or Port Commissioner.

    With the exception of two members, the entire Task Force voted for the Vessel Moratorium final recommendation recognizing that whale watching is clearly unacceptable as the SRKW struggle to survive due to lack of prey and contaminants. The two NO votes were placed by members of the SJI Chamber of Commerce, one is the current PWWA president and one is a current Chamber Board Member and past president of the PWWA.

    I will always be grateful to the hard working members of the Task Force who have done the right thing and voted to make this bold final recommendation a first step towards passing it into law for the protection of the remaining Orca and their essential habitat as you had envisioned."

  • Andre Entermann Sunday, 18 November 2018 20:47 Comment Link Report

    As far as i can tell, ALL of you receive funding from the whale watching industry. It's gonna be hard to separate your cash flow from whats best for our resident whales. Do you really think leaving ONLY the SRKWs alone is going to cut in to your funding? There are plenty of other marine mammals to harass, or in a respectful way, watch and enjoy, and yes, to your question (that actually shows the truth), the pressure will transfer more to non SKRW marine life. And since we hear that the SRKWs are seen 15% of the time, well i guess that's 15% more pressure on the other marine wildlife.
    We've seen this for so many years. The economy is too hell-bent on maintaining itself that our natural world gets exploited.
    I know this Orca issue is many-fold. Chemicals and more salmon needed, but noise and traffic is one issue and we as a county can change this to be on the safe-side right now.
    As whale watching operators, you can get on-board with this 'leaving the SKRW alone" and your customers will applaud you and come for the other, more abundant creatures to watch out there in the Salish Sea. The whole county and the operators can actually look good and not lose money with this moratorium. I think at some point yall will have to accept a slight adjustment to business as usual because the natural world deserves so much more.

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