NOAA Fisheries Service is set to reconvene the Pinniped-Fishery Interaction Task Force that in 2008 recommended approval of a state application for authority to remove, lethally or otherwise, California sea lions that prey on salmon below the lower Columbia River's Bonneville Dam.
The group first met in 2007 and produced a report late that year recommending the agency take actions to reduce California sea lion predation on salmon, including capturing and killing specific animals.
The federal agency in March 2008 authorized the states of Idaho, Oregon and Washington to remove identifiable sea lions that have been observed preying on salmon and steelhead, many of which are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
That permission remains in effect until June 30, 2012, at which time it can be extended for up to five years. The authorization can be modified or revoked by NOAA Fisheries at any time with 72 hours notice.
The authorization was granted through the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which, for the most part, protects the big pinnipeds from human-caused harm. An amendment to the MMPA does allow removal of California sea lions in situations where the marine mammals' predation is having a negative impact on protected salmon.
After three meetings in 2007, all but one member of the task force concluded that California sea lions are having a significant negative impact on the recovery of Columbia Basin threatened and endangered salmonids.
NOAA is now asking the 18-member task force to evaluate how effective these removal actions have been so far and to provide recommendations for different or additional actions, if they are needed.
In the agency's 2008 authorization letter it noted that the MMPA requires that, "after receipt of reports from the States covering the first three years of authorized activity, NMFS will reconvene the Task Force to evaluate the States' reports and the effectiveness of the actions and any lethal take.
"NMFS will consider the reports, the Task Force recommendations, and the issues set out in section 120(c) of the MMPA, and may modify the authorization and conditions for the coming year(s), or revoke the authorization for lethal take," the letter says.
The states have over the past three years removed a total of 33 California sea lions from below Bonneville. Several were relocated to zoos or aquarium but most were euthanized.
The task force will meet twice, Oct 25-26 and Nov. 9-10 at the Lloyd Center Doubletree Hotel in Portland. The second morning of each meeting will be open for the public to provide relevant information to the task force.