In-Depth: Sponsoring Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) introduced this bill to protect endangered salmon and steelhead on the Columbia River by letting states and Indian tribes kill up to 100 more sea lions from non-threatened populations per year:
“Our community prioritizes protecting salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River because they are central to our way of life in the Pacific Northwest. The Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act is critical because sea lion predation is posing a serious threat to our salmon populations, impacting our efforts to ensure their survival. With this solution, we have the tools to better protect the salmon so vital to our recreational, cultural and economic interests.”
Original cosponsor Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) added:
“Over the last few years, we’ve seen a record number of California and Stellar sea lions in the Columbia River from Astoria to Bonneville Dam. These predators are present in numbers totally inconsistent with their historic range, and pose such a threat to salmon in the river that BPA ratepayers and my constituents pay hundreds of millions of dollars annually as part of the largest mitigation program in the country for threatened and endangered species. Even the National Marine Fisheries Service called the mortality of salmon returning to the Columbia River Basin that’s attributable to sea lions alarming. We need to eliminate this threat to our iconic Oregon salmon that are struggling to survive. I’ve been working with Rep. Herrera Beutler and our states, tribes, and local communities for several years now on solutions to save our salmon, and this legislation will provide the states and tribal managers the authority they need to eliminate this threat once and for all.”
Some House Democrats expressed opposition to this bill writing:
“H.R. 2083 targets the threat that fish face from predation by marine mammals, specifically California sea lions, but does not address far more significant factors impacting endangered salmonids and non-listed fish. Dams -- particularly deadbeat dams like the four on the lower Snake River that no longer provide any great benefit to society -- are the main factor. Habitat loss, fishing pressure, interactions with hatchery fish, climate change, pesticides, and predation by fish and wildlife other than sea lions also impact salmon runs. In reality, sea lion predation represents a very small proportion of total salmon mortality and the current lethal take authorization permitted under the MMPA is sufficient.”
This legislation passed the House Natural Resources Committee on a 21-14 vote and has the support of four cosponsors, including three Republicans and one Democrat.
Of Note: The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife writes the following about removing California sea lions from the the portion of the Columbia River system near Willamette Falls, where it says the situation has reached “a crisis point”:
“The California sea lion population along the West Coast is no longer considered at risk and has likely reached its “optimum sustainable population” with the current population of an estimated 250-300,000 individuals, up form < 75,000 individuals when the Marine Mammal Protection Act was adopted back in 1972. This means removing the relatively few sea lions necessary to reduce the immediate risk to salmon and steelhead at Bonneville Dam and Willamette Falls will have no impact on the California sea lion population. ODFW pinniped biologists believe California sea lions are now expanding beyond their historic range, to include Willamette Falls, where the first documented sighting was in the 1950s. Of note, all of the sea lions that migrate north of California are males.”
The Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife added:
"Left unchecked, California sea lions could undermine the recovery of threatened and endangered Columbia River salmon and steelhead. For some stocks recovery efforts have been under way for decades, and funded with billions of dollars in public investment."
Congresswoman Herrera Beutler’s press release states that consumption of salmon and steelhead by sea lions has grown nearly five-fold over the last four years from 1,402 fish in 2013 to 6,371 in 2016.
WDFW notes that sea lions have been moving further up the Columbia River in increasing numbers since the early 1980's, from Astoria to the Cowlitz River area up to Bonneville Dam 145 miles from the river mouth. Some have even gone further to Drano Lake and McNary Pool. It's been estimated that there are about 3,000 California sea lions and about 1,000 Stellar sea lions in the lower Columbia River near Astoria.
Summary by Eric Revell(Photo Credit: Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife via Flickr / Creative Commons)