Willamette River winter steelhead were listed as threatened under the federal
endangered species act in March 1999 due to the impact on the native fish by
federal dams and habitat loss. Harvest of the fish has not been allowed for
more than 20 years.
add as a major threat to the steelhead male California sea lions picking off 25
percent or more of the wild run at Willamette Falls.
accumulated impacts and particularly predation by the sea lions, according to a
recently released Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife analysis, is placing
the iconic fish at a high risk of extinction.
number of wild winter steelhead returning to tributaries in the upper
Willamette River has been declining for a decade, ODFW says. The return this
year was the lowest on record, with 822 fish getting past Willamette Falls, but
just 512 of those are native winter steelhead. The remainder are a
self-sustaining population derived from a hatchery program that was
discontinued decades ago, according to Dr. Shaun Clements, senior policy
advisor with ODFW. These additional fish turn into west-side tributaries, such
as the Yamhill and Tualatin rivers.
scientists found that sea lions consumed at least one quarter of the wild
steelhead run and warned that if sea lion predation continues at these levels,
there is an up to 90 percent probability that at least one wild steelhead
population of four populations will go extinct as a direct result of the
predation,” ODFW said in an August 7 news release. “The near-term risk of wild
steelhead extinction can be significantly reduced or avoided by limiting sea
lion access to Willamette Falls.”
know what the problem is and have seen this coming for about a decade, we just
couldn’t take action to prevent it,” said Clements.
says the action needed to prevent Willamette wild winter steelhead’s slip into
extinction is to remove some or all of the sea lions.
conservation groups believe that another factor for the decline in numbers of
the upper Willamette River winter is the improper use of hatcheries that
produce non-native summer steelhead and that those fish compete with the wild
winter run because they share habitat. The Conservation Angler and the
Willamette Riverkeeper sued the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers in May asking the
agency to stop producing the summer fish at Corps-owned Marion Forks and South
Santiam hatcheries until it completes an ESA consultation with NOAA Fisheries.
The hatcheries are operated by ODFW.
CBB, June 9, 2017, “Groups Sue Corps Over Upper Willamette Summer-Run Steelhead
Hatchery Releases; Says Harm Wild Fish,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/439056.aspx)
combat the damage to fish runs by sea lions, ODFW began hazing the pinnipeds at
the falls in 2009. It is now preparing a Section 120 permit application that it
will send to NOAA Fisheries this month. The permit would allow the state to
lethally remove a certain number of the sea lions each year.
CBB, July 14, 2017, “Ocean Conditions, Sea Lions Faulted For Low Willamette
Steelhead Return; Only 822 Wild Steelhead,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/439268.aspx)
of a few problem individuals will have no impact on the overall sea lion
population but can significantly benefit ESA-listed fish,” said Robin Brown,
lead scientist for ODFW’s marine mammal program.
solution to address the threats to wild fish populations will have to strike a
balance between recovery of the imperiled steelhead and the ongoing
conservation of sea lions, according to ODFW.
at stake are significant regional investments in recovery efforts, such as
improvements in fish passage at dams, restoration of fish habitat, and
implementation of fishing regulations that prohibit anglers from harvesting
wild fish. ODFW scientists have determined that curtailing the immediate impact
created by sea lion predation is essential to saving the steelhead from
extinction to support the success of long-term recovery efforts.
an appropriate balance between the recovery of ESA-listed salmon and steelhead
populations and the ongoing conservation of sea lions is essential,” Clements
says in his July 31 analysis. “Without restoring this balance, the multi-billion
dollar regional investment in recovery efforts to address issues with habitat
and dams are at high risk of failure and some fish populations, such as
Willamette steelhead may be lost.”
lions are not listed under the ESA, but they are protected under the federal
Marine Mammal Protection Act. However, unlike the ESA, the MMPA has “fewer
tools for managers to use to balance the conservation of predators and prey and
prevent these situations in locations where fish are most vulnerable,” ODFW
of the MMPA were revised in 1994 to allow limited take of sea lions to protect
ESA-listed salmon and steelhead, but that includes processes that take a long
time to enact.
over the last 20 years has shown that these delays place fish stocks in danger
of extinction, and result in the need to remove far more sea lions than if
proactive management were allowed in certain cases,” the analysis says.
“Ultimately, there is an urgent need to provide more flexibility in Section 120
of the MMPA to allow for more proactive management.”
why the agency is also supporting federal legislation that, it says, would
balance sea lion predation with ESA needs.
are in on-going discussions with state and tribal fishery managers and several
stakeholder groups,” Clements said. “Given the situation at Willamette Falls,
everyone is united in their call for swift action, and ODFW stands ready to
provide expertise to the Northwest congressional delegation on a bipartisan,
compromise bill to revise the MMPA to address these emergency situations
without undermining the strength and importance of this law.”
in the House and Senate; H.R. 2083 is sponsored by Rep. Jamie Herrera Beutler
(R-Wash.) and Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), and S 1702 is sponsored by Sen.
James Risch (R-Idaho. The House bill has cleared the Natural Resources
CBB, July 28, 2017, “Bill To Expedite Sea Lion Removal Clears House Natural
Resources Committee, Heads To Floor,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/439344.aspx)
the current predation rate and low returns of the steelhead, Clements’ analysis
predicts an almost 90 percent chance that at least one of the four populations
of wild winter steelhead will go extinct within 100 years.
sea lions present, the North Santiam River population has a 2 percent chance of
extinction, according to the analysis. The South Santiam population has about a
5 percent chance of extinction, while the Molalla population has a 0 percent
with the sea lion presence, the chance for extinction in the next 100 years
rises dramatically. At a low predation rate, such as that observed in 2015, the
chance for extinction in the North Santiam is 8 percent, 16 percent in the South
Santiam and 0 percent in the Molalla. At an average predation rate (2016), the
chance of extinction in each of the rivers is 27 percent, 34 percent and 2
percent. At a high predation rate like this year, the chance of extinction in
each of the rivers is 64 percent, 60 percent and 21 percent. At all levels of
predation, the Calapooia River is most at risk of extinction, with chances all
near 99 percent.
chance that none of the three populations will go extinct is lowest with no sea
lions present (94 percent) and highest if predation follows this year’s trend
(11 percent chance of at least one population going extinct, but the reverse of
that is that there is an 89 percent chance that at least one population will go
are at a point where any more delays in the Willamette may condemn this run to
extinction,” Clements said. “We need to act now or extinction may be our
sea lions have expanded along the West Coast over the past four decades to a
population of nearly 300,000 animals coast-wide today, ODFW says. As numbers
increased, a small proportion of sea lions – all males – have expanded their
range into freshwater areas where migrating salmon and steelhead are especially
vulnerable, including in places such as Ballard Locks in Washington, Bonneville
Dam and at Willamette Falls where fish tend to congregate before moving
upstream. At these locations, predation by sea lions is especially high and
adversely impacts salmon, steelhead, and sturgeon. In the 1980s, sea lion
predation on winter steelhead at Ballard Locks in Seattle effectively destroyed
the Lake Washington stock.
June 23, 2017, “Oregon To Seek Permit To Lethally Remove Salmonid-Eating Sea
Lions At Willamette Falls,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/439150.aspx
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
July 15, 2016, “NOAA Re-Authorizes States To Lethally Remove Salmon-Eating
California Sea Lions At Bonneville Dam,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/437133.aspx
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