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Council Rejects State Agencies’ Funding Request For More Sea Lion Traps At Bonneville Dam
Posted on Friday, February 11, 2011 (PST)

Citing the lack of a science review for the proposed project, and the fact that the sea lion removal program has been, at least for now, derailed, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council opted this week to not support a request for the funding to build three floating traps to snare the big marine mammals below the Columbia River’s Bonneville Dam.


The request from Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is for $75,857 in expense funds to build additional traps that would help increase the sea lion removal rate. The states have been using three floating traps.


Over the past three years the states, primarily Oregon and Washington, have removed 37 California sea lions from below the dam where the pinnipeds prey on salmon, steelhead and other fish species. NOAA Fisheries Service in March 2008 granted the states the authority under the Marine Mammal Protection Act to lethally remove sea lions that are having a negative impact on salmon and steelhead stocks that are protected under the Endangered Species Act.


The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, however, ruled late last year that NOAA Fisheries decision to grant the lethal take authority was legally flawed and required that the decision be rescinded. The federal agency is now mulling whether to develop a new decision that might pass legal muster.


The Pinniped-Fishery Interaction Task Force convened by NOAA Fisheries in November advised that if the removal program was to have any chance to succeed (i.e. reduce predation on salmon to low levels) the effort would have to be stepped up.


“From what I see of the project, I support it,” Washington Council member Tom Karier said, though he qualified that support by saying the removal program needs to be reviewed by the Council’s Independent Scientific Review Panel. 


“It seems like the legal issues might be sorted out soon,” Karier said.


A motion to not approve the funding request was approved by the Council, with Karier and Oregon member Bill Bradbury voting against the motion.


The Council did in February 2008 recommend that the Bonneville Power Administration spend as much as $75,000, “to address the non-lethal hazing elements of the request to support existing activities on the river…” and up to $130,000, “a portion of the request so that the sponsors can purchase the necessary equipment only to conduct capture and marking operations near Bonneville Dam for Fiscal Year 2008,” according to a Jan. 27 staff memo that recommended that the Council not support the 2011 request.


BPA funds the Council’s Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program as mitigation for impacts to fish and wildlife from the Columbia-Snake river hydro system and makes final funding decisions. A Jan. 26 letter from BPA Fish and Wildlife Director Bill Maslen said that the agency did not support the funding request. BPA markets power generated in the Federal Columbia River Power System.


“Although BPA recognizes the importance of managing predation on ESA listed salmon, agency policy does not support BPA funding for the lethal removal of California sea lions from the Columbia River system,” Maslen’s letter says. “This policy was established in 2008, after BPA funded the original request for more traps. BPA’s rationale for this position is based upon ongoing litigation regarding lethal removal of sea lions and recognition of NOAA Fisheries as the lead Federal entity responsible for this type of action (e.g., management of California sea lions).” BPA has not been involved at any point in that decision process or the litigation.


“Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), NOAA is the lead agency for managing and overseeing California sea lion populations. The states are delegated authority by NOAA to undertake lethal removal. There is no clear nexus between sea lion predation and the FCRPS below Bonneville Dam,” the letter says.


“Given the circumstances, BPA funding for additional traps would raise significant concerns relative to the Northwest Power Act’s in lieu prohibition, and as well raise questions regarding potential augmentation of NOAA appropriations,” the letter says.


“Because the additional traps will be used to directly lethally remove sea lions, BPA cannot support the request. BPA will continue to support activities that monitor and address pinniped predation (e.g., hazing and monitoring), but BPA will not fund actions that directly support lethal removal.”


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