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Thursday, May 13, 2021

Community Food Co-op halts sale of coastal salmon to protect Salish orcas

Salmon sits on display and ready to be sold at the Community Food Co-Op on Tuesday, May 7. // Photo by Mike Oh

By Alex Meacham

The Bellingham Community Food Co-op have temporarily stopped selling Chinook/king salmon sourced through coastal waters of Washington, Oregon and British Columbia in its store. The decision was made due to concerns about protecting the Salish orcas’ principal food source.

Amy Esary, marketing manager for the Co-op, said the decision to stop sales of certain kinds of canned salmon comes from research and community concerns raised at a meeting with member/owners of the Co-op last fall.

The Co-op is trying to influence salmon shoppers to make conservation-oriented decisions, according to a press release. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Center for Whale Research, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Wild Fish Conservancy all support the moratorium on sales, according to the same press release.

The Chinook/king salmon is the primary food source for the Pacific Northwest’s orcas, which are already critically endangered, according to the press release.

Misty MacDuffee, Wild Salmon Program director for the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, explained that Chinook salmon are at the top of the salmon food chain, but are the smallest population of salmon in the area.

The Co-op still sells salmon species that are outside of the orca’s primary predation habits.

The Co-op has sold 500 pounds of salmon labeled as king or Chinook in the last year, and this moratorium at all Co-op locations will last at least through the next salmon season, which runs this spring through next fall, according to Esary.

“We realize it’s a complex issue with many facets and recognize this alone is not the solution. We feel like this is one step that we can do in our space as part of our stewardship and advocacy initiatives,” Esary said in an email.

In a statement in the press release, Co-op general manager Adrienne Renz said the Co-op is trying to help their members to support the community’s future, and considers saving orcas one of the most pressing issues to the community.

MacDuffee said there are plenty of replacement varieties coming out of Alaska, such as pink or sockeye salmon that are more sustainably caught than Chinook.

“What we’ve labeled unsustainable is those ocean, mixed-stock fisheries which are… intercepted on a migration route,” MacDuffee said. These are the kinds of fisheries that one might catch multiple generations of fish in the same area, rather than the intended species and generation, MacDuffee added.

First-time Co-op visitors Claire Bailey and Evan Smith said they supported the Co-op in their moratorium. Smith said he didn’t mind the Co-op getting rid of the variety since he probably wouldn’t have bought it anyway.

The Co-op will still be offering several other kinds of salmon, along with Chinook that are caught in Alaska. Caught more locally, they carry sockeye, silver and halibut, and as of Saturday, May 4, many cans of pink salmon now line their shelves.

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