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Bill Introduced In Congress Again To Expedite Removal Of Sea Lions From Bonneville Dam Tailrace
Posted on Friday, April 14, 2017 (PST)

Two members of the Northwest’s congressional delegation, one a Republican, the other a Democrat, introduced a bill this week that would make it easier for tribes and states to obtain permits to remove sea lions from the Bonneville Dam tailrace.

 

The Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act would allow both tribes and states to remove sea lions near Bonneville Dam. While the removal program as proposed by the bill would still be subject to and limited by Section 120 of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, it would more closely be brought into alignment with the Endangered Species Act, according to the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

 

Introduced by U.S. Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR), the bill would allow Northwest states and tribes to potentially obtain sea lion removal permits via an expedited process.

 

“Our community prioritizes protecting salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River because they are central to our way of life in the Pacific Northwest,” said Herrera Beutler. “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 to tools to better protect the salmon so vital to our recreational, cultural and economic interests.”

 

The legislation would allow for what the tribes call “active management” of the growing Columbia River sea lion population.

 

“Over the last few years, we’ve seen a record number of California and Steller sea lions in the Columbia River from Astoria to Bonneville Dam,” Schrader said. “These sea lions pose a real threat to the 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.”

 

Sea lions are present in numbers that are inconsistent with their historic range, he continued.

 

“We need to eliminate this threat to our iconic Oregon salmon that are struggling to survive,” Schrader said. “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 members the authority they need to eliminate this threat once and for all.”

 

“Our tribes are working hard to restore ecological balance to a highly altered and degraded river system. The Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act are thoughtful laws, however they need to be reconciled with one another,” said Leland Bill, chairman of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. “The Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act honors the underlying intent of both laws while providing professional fisheries managers with tools to manage both protected and endangered species.”

 

The number of unique individual sea lions congregating at the base of Bonneville Dam in spring 2016 was the second largest number of the pinnipeds observed since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began counting the animals in 2002.

 

According to a recent Corps report, an evaluation of pinniped predation on salmon, steelhead and other fish species at the dam from January through May 2016, California and Steller sea lions that show up in the spring ate the second largest number of salmonids – spring chinook salmon and steelhead – and the largest proportion of the run last year than in any year since the Corps began its observations. Many are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.

 

The report, “Evaluation of pinniped predation on adult salmonids and other fish in the Bonneville Dam tailrace, 2016,” is at http://www.nwd-wc.usace.army.mil/tmt/documents/fish/2016/Pinniped_2016.pdf. Study authors are Patricia L. Madson, Bjorn K. van der Leeuw, Karrie M. Gibbons, and Thomas H. Van Hevelingen, all with the Corps.

 

Some 190 unique individual pinnipeds were documented last spring: 149 California sea lions, 41 Steller sea lions, and no harbor seals, according to the report. The maximum number of pinnipeds observed at the project on any one day was 120, but the daily mean was 28.8 pinnipeds (10.8 California sea lions and 18 Steller sea lions). Observations in 2015 found 264 pinnipeds at the dam.

 

Corps observers saw sea lions take 9,525 salmonids or 5.8 percent of the entire adult salmon run during the January through May period.

 

(See CBB, March 10, 2017, “Corps Report: Sea Lions In Bonneville Dam Tailrace In 2016 Consumed 4.5 Percent Of Spring Chinook,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/438453.aspx)

 

The 2017 legislation mirrors a proposal in January 2015, also introduced by Herrera Beutler and Schrader, as well as proposals introduced in the three previous years by now-retired Washington Rep. Doc Hastings.

 

(See CBB, January 30, 2015, “Legislation Proposes Expedited Process For Tribes, States To Lethally Remove Salmon-Eating Sea Lions,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/433017.aspx)

 

“The spring chinook loss, coupled with the growing sea lion population, has placed us in an emergency situation,” said Bill. “This legislation would give us the flexibility to address the current sea lion situation so conflicts with at-risk species can be managed.”

 

Sea lion populations have seen a resurgence under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. In 1972 when the MMPA was passed, the California sea lion population hovered around 30,000 animals, CRITFC said. The population is now over 300,000.

 

“Easily 20 percent of the spring runs endeavoring to return to their spawning grounds are being taken by sea lions,” said a press release from the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation. “Those who suggest that this – sea lions eating fish near Bonneville Dam – is a natural phenomenon are not familiar with either the normal habitat of sea lions or the hard fought compromises that so many in the Columbia Basin have reached in order to try and have a productive fishery.

 

“We cannot pretend that this is just nature at work when man has so altered the natural balance that might have otherwise made it a fair fight. Now the fish are at too great a disadvantage for the well-intended but naïve protectors of sea lions to say that man should butt out of the sea lion versus salmon issue.”

 

Also see:

 

--CBB, June 17, 2016, “Final 2016 Pinniped Report: Sea Lion Salmon Take Astoria To Bonneville Dam Could Be 20 Percent Of Run,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/436941.aspx

 

-- CBB, June 19, 2015, “Final 2015 Sea Lion Predation Report: 8,474 Salmonids Taken Below Bonneville, Twice 10-Year Average,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/434287.aspx

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