Ocean Policy In The State Legislature:Report From the Seattle Aquarium


(Photo: Rich Yukubousky)

The 2019 legislative session has come to a close here in Washington state more than 2,000 bills were introduced in this Washington state legislative session. 


All four of the key orca recovery bills passed! New laws to help protect our struggling southern resident orcas were a priority for state lawmakers this session. The new laws will:

  • Increase the distance between boats and southern resident orcas, add a go-slow zone around the orcas and create a licensing program for commercial whale-watching operators. These protections from vessel noise and disturbance will make it easier for orcas to forage and find prey.
  • Prevent toxic pollution by working to reduce certain chemicals that could harm sensitive species like orcas and vulnerable populations like kids.
  • Protect habitat for Chinook salmon—the primary food source for orcas—and forage fish by increasing the state’s ability to enforce existing habitat protection laws.
  • Reduce oil spill risk by establishing tug escort requirements for more oil tankers in the waters around the San Juan Islands.

Washington also took a key step toward reducing plastic packaging in our state! A bill passed that requires an assessment of the amount, types, management and disposal of plastic packaging sold into the state. The report must include draft legislation for plastic packaging stewardship. That bill will be in the 2021 session.


The Reusable Bag Bill did not make it to a final vote. There was a lot of positive press and the word got out about the benefits for ocean health that would come from eliminating thin, single-use plastic bags. 

The Healthy Environment for All (HEAL) Act, did not quite make it across the finish line either. There was some funding in the budget for an Environmental Justice Task Force. The Seattle Aquarium will continue to lend our support to the organizations leading these important environmental justice efforts.

Next, the Seattle Aquarium will be turning their attention to federal policy and will participate in Capitol Hill Ocean Week in Washington, DC in June.