NOAA Fisheries announced this week that a task force will be convened Oct. 24 to mull whether the federal government should authorize the lethal removal of California sea lions that prey on salmon and steelhead in the waters below the Columbia River’s Bonneville Dam.
The meeting, in the form of a conference call and web conference, will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Pacific Time. The agency will post the agenda with call-in number and web access information on Oct. 12 at http://www.nwr.noaa.gov/Marine-Mammals/Seals-and-Sea-Lions/Sec-120-TF.cfm.
Members of the public may call to listen to the meeting. A specific time slot will be provided on the agenda for the public to provide comments or information for the task force to consider.
On Sept. 12, NOAA Fisheries accepted for a second time a joint application from the states of Idaho, Oregon and Washington, which are seeking a new federal authorization under Marine Mammal Protection Act’s Sec. 120. Such an authorization, if approved by NOAA Fisheries, would allow the states to lethally remove individually identifiable California sea lions that each spring congregate below Bonneville Dam to prey on, principally, salmon and steelhead.
Included among those fish stocks are wild fish protected under the Endangered Species Act. The California sea lions are protected under the MMPA but not the ESA. NOAA is charged with enforcing both acts. Section 120 outlines a process for exempting the MMPA’s protections in special instances.
A public comment period on the application closes Oct. 12.
The task force will convene to review the application, public comments, and other relevant information. The task force is composed of NOAA Fisheries staff, independent scientists, representatives from affected conservation and fishing communities, tribes, states and others.
The task force will then develop a recommendation that will inform the federal determination to approve or deny the states' application.
A previous application submitted by the states in November 2006 was approved by NOAA Fisheries in March 2008. Seventeen of the 18 members of a task force convened for two-day meetings in both September and October 2007 supported lethal removal of California sea lions while one member, representing the Humane Society of the United States, opposed the states’ application and any lethal removal.
But that authorization was deemed invalid late last year by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The HSUS and Wild Fish Conservancy were plaintiffs in the litigation.
NOAA Fisheries in May reissued the authorization, saying it had corrected legal flaws noted by the appeals court. But in July the federal agency revoked the authorization and invited the states to apply again.
A total of 40 California sea lions were removed from 2008-2010 when the authorization was in place.
The task force had reconvened for two-day meetings in October and November 2010 to consider the effectiveness of the removal program during the first three years of implementation. In a task final report stemming from those meetings all but one member expressed the need to strengthen the ability to identify and remove animals that feed on salmon and steelhead searching for the dam’s fish ladders.
In accepting the application, NOAA Fisheries announced it would “immediately begin to fulfill the statutory requirements, with the goal of making a final decision no later than February 29, 2012.” Shortly thereafter is when the spring chinook salmon run starts to enter the Columbia and, most notably over the past 10 years or so, the California sea lions also begin to make their presence felt.
Invited task force members for the Oct. 24 meeting include:
Daryl Boness, retired marine mammal scientist; Bruce Buckmaster of the commercial fishing industry’s Salmon for All; Jody Callica of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation; Joyce Casey of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Robert (Bob) DeLong of NOAA’s Marine Mammal Lab; Doug Hatch of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission; Chris Hathaway of the Lower Columbia River Estuary Partnership; Barry McPherson of the American Fisheries Society; Guy Norman of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife; Joe Oatman of the Nez Perce Tribe; Dennis Richey of Oregon Anglers; Carl Scheeler of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation; Rob Walton of NOAA Fisheries; Paul Ward of the Confederated Bands of the Yakama Nation; Steve Williams of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Sharon Young of the Humane Society of the United States.
For more information about the history of NOAA Fisheries’ efforts to address the pinniped-salmonid conflict at Bonneville Dam, see the web at http://www.nwr.noaa.gov/Marine-Mammals/Seals-and-Sea-Lions/States-MMPA-Request.cfm
Meanwhile, the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources this week passed a bill that allows for the issuance of state and tribal permits to lethally remove sea lions that consume endangered salmon and other fish species in the Columbia River and their tributaries.
H.R.3069, “the Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act,” passed with a bipartisan vote of 29-13.
The legislation was introduced by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-WA, who serves as chairman of the committee.
“Salmon are an integral part of the Northwest economy and identity. Northwest residents pay hundreds of millions of dollars annually to protect endangered salmon populations only to have several species of sea lions to gorge on fish population,” said Hastings. “With all other methods exhausted, lethal removal of the most aggressive sea lions is the only option left to deter predation, help protect endangered salmon and recoup more of our region’s substantial investment in salmon recovery.”
The bill, if approved, would allow Washington, Oregon, Idaho and four Columbia River treaty tribes to obtain one-year permits from the Secretary of Commerce for the lethal removal of a limited number of sea lions preying on salmon, steelhead and other fish in the Columbia River and its tributaries. State and federal guidelines require that lethal removal, when necessary to control sea lions, be done in the most humane manner possible.