Four Columbia River treaty fishing tribes on Thursday strongly encouraged the states of Oregon and Washington to push forward by immediately to refile an application with NOAA Fisheries for a Marine Mammal Protection Act Section 120 permit that allows them to remove California sea lions that feed each spring on salmon returning to the Columbia River to spawn.
The tribes are also calling on Congress to expedite legislation that will fix deficiencies in the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The tribes expressed disappointment with the federal government’s decision this week to revoke the “letter of authority” issued by NOAA Fisheries giving the states the right to permanently remove sea lions preying on salmon below Bonneville Dam.
“The science behind the issue is very clear. Sea lions have a significant negative impact on salmon populations. This issue has been vetted. NOAA’s decision to start the entire process over from scratch will expend precious time and resources,” said Paul Lumley, executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. CRITFC is the technical support and coordinating agency for fishery management policies of the the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation and the Nez Perce Tribe.
“Twice an independent task force has recommended that NOAA authorize lethal removal of sea lions,” Lumley said. Tasks forces were assembled in 2007 and last year as part of the Section 120 process to consider whether lethal removal was warranted and make recommendations to NOAA Fisheries.
“Scientists estimate sea lions annually kill 20 percent of the spring chinook run in the lower Columbia River,” according to a Thursday CRITFC press release. The wild spring chinook run’s upper Columbia and Snake River components are listed on the Endangered Species Act.
Tribal scientists participated in a federally-required process, which was initiated as a result of a 2006 state application, that produced a recommendation that NOAA Fisheries issue permits allowing lethal removal of nuisance California sea lions near Bonneville Dam.
The tribes say that after five years of process and litigation, sea lion predation impacts are unchecked.
A bill in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Endangered Salmon Predation Prevention Act, would correct and clarify the Marine Mammal Protection Act’s Section 120 process as it relates to the Columbia River pinniped-salmon interaction problem.
The bi-partisan supported bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington provides an important set of management tools to address expanding predation levels by California sea lion problem, the tribes say. A bill feature supported by tribes would add the Warm Springs, Umatilla, Yakama, and Nez Perce tribes, as eligible entities to win authority to lethally remove California sea lions. That right now is held only by the states.
The legislation accelerates the process for granting lethal take authority; limits the cumulative level of lethal take to 1 percent of annual biological potential removal level (about 85 animals); further limits the lethal take to 10 animals per permit holder; and spurs the Secretary of Commerce to report on any additional legislation needed to amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act within two years.
“The predation of sea lions on ESA listed salmon in the Columbia River Basin remains substantial,” said Lumley. “The Marine Mammal Protection Act is broken. Now is the time to address these problems.”
Predation by California sea lions on threatened and endangered salmon populations has been a concern of the tribes since 2002 when 31 of the big marine mammals settled in for the spring at Bonneville Dam. They have been involved in a variety of activities over the years – such as non-lethal hazing of the pinnipeds – intended to reduce predation on salmon, steelhead, lamprey and other fish species.
For more information on sea lion predation at Bonneville Dam visit the CRITFC's sea lion page http://www.critfc.org/sealion/sealion.html
This website provides links to a fact sheet, video of predation, hazing activity, and photos of damage done to migrating salmon by sea lions.