EDITORIAL | Sand shrimping outcome a positive result for all involved

If the life and happiness of Earth’s whales were a nuclear explosion, Langley would be ground zero.

A whale center, a whale bell park, proposed whale rights, whales, whales, whales. One might say the Village by the Sea is mad when it comes to these underwater behemoths, which makes the state Department of Natural Resources’ decision to lift a sand shrimping ban a pretty gusty call. It also appears to have been the right one, unpopular as it may be.

Ghost shrimp harvesting was banned for two years, beginning in 2014, in the wake of successful lobbying efforts by Langley city officials and whale advocates alike. They worried that commercial fishing was having an adverse impact on Saratoga grays, a unique group of a dozen or so whales that make annual appearances on the east side of Whidbey Island.

The species migrates every year from the warm-water lagoons of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula to the Chukchi Sea off the northwest coast of Alaska. Experts believe they make this pitstop specifically to visit ghost shrimp-rich feeding grounds such as in front of Langley and at Grassers Lagoon in Penn Cove.

Sightings in recent years had decreased, however, which led some on South Whidbey to wonder if there was a correlation to fishing.

Concerns in Langley were that such a link did in fact exist, and that vital whale habitat and the island’s very status as a Whidbey Graceland for Saratoga grays was under threat.

And if the whales didn’t make their annual pilgrimage, one they’ve done for nearly 20 years, Langley’s visitor industry might also suffer.

So, the state agreed to put things on hold while it investigated the issue more thoroughly. The agency’s study is still ongoing, but it appears early results indicate that sand shrimp fishermen may not the boogey men they’ve been feared to be, and that shrimp numbers are robust enough to support both visiting grays and a limited harvest.

The season opened this month.

This is obviously a positive outcome, one where whale stomachs and the wallets of Langley merchants and commercial fisherman all have a potential to stay full. It’s our hope that this remains the case, today and into the future.