As it had become clear that sea lions preying
on salmonids at Willamette Falls could cause the extinction of Willamette River
winter steelhead, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife applied October 6
to NOAA Fisheries for a permit to lethally remove some California sea lions
that this year have taken as many as 25 percent of the winter steelhead run.
Now NOAA is asking the public what they think
about granting ODFW the Section 120 permit that would allow the state to
lethally remove a certain number of sea lions each year.
The method of removing the sea lions would be
similar to the lethal removal of California sea lions that prey on salmon and
steelhead, a program now underway each spring and summer at Bonneville Dam,
NOAA says. Many of those fish taken by sea lions at Bonneville are listed as
threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, just as
Willamette fish are listed. Both Willamette River winter steelhead and chinook
are listed as threatened.
(See CBB, March 10, 2017, “Corps Report: Sea
Lions In Bonneville Dam Tailrace In 2016 Consumed 4.5 Percent Of Spring
Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, each
application NOAA Fisheries receives for removing problematic sea lions must
undergo independent consideration.
Section 120 of the MMPA allows NOAA Fisheries
to authorize the intentional lethal taking of individually identifiable pinnipeds
that are having a significant negative impact on the decline or recovery of
salmonid fishery stocks which have been listed as threatened or endangered
species under the ESA, are approaching threatened species or endangered species
status, or migrate through the Ballard Locks at Seattle, Washington, according
The authorization applies only to pinnipeds
that are not listed under the ESA, or designated as a depleted or strategic
stock under the MMPA. California sea lions are neither listed under the ESA nor
have they been designated as a depleted or strategic stock under the MMPA.
NOAA said that under the protection of MMPA,
the California sea lion population is healthy and flourishing along the West
Coast, numbering more than 250,000 animals.
ODFW has tracked the presence of California
sea lions at Willamette Falls for more than a decade. According to their data,
the single-day maximum count of sea lions at Willamette Falls has increased
from 27 in 2014 to at least 40 in 2017.
ODFW also tracked predation by the sea lions
on Willamette River salmon and steelhead listed under the ESA. In 2014,
according to the state, sea lions consumed an estimated 780 wild Upper
Willamette River steelhead and 496 wild Upper Willamette River chinook salmon,
which represented 12 percent of the steelhead return and 7 percent of the
chinook returns for those species that year.
In 2017, a leaner year for salmon returns, sea
lions consumed an estimated 270 wild steelhead and 399 chinook salmon,
representing 25 percent and 6 percent of the returns of each species for the
year, respectively. According to ODFW calculations, continued predation at such
rates could ultimately drive at least some of the runs to extinction.
Removal of sea lions preying on the vulnerable
fish would reduce that risk of extinction, ODFW biologists estimate.
The first step in NOAA’s review is the
formation of a Pinniped-Fishery Interaction Task Force that will include
scientists, tribes, and representatives of fishing and conservation groups. The
Task Force will provide NOAA Fisheries with a recommendation on whether the
agency should approve Oregon’s request as described in its application.
In a Federal Register Notice (https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2017/11/09/2017-24352/marine-mammals-pinniped-removal-authority) NOAA Fisheries invited nominations for the Task Force and is
also seeking public input on the impact of sea lion predation on at-risk fish
near Willamette Falls.
“We’re particularly interested in hearing from
people who have experience and observations involving sea lions on the
Willamette River, who know when and where these animals spend time, and can
offer insights into the magnitude of the problem,” said Robert Anderson, Acting
Branch Chief for Protected Resources in NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region.
In formulating a recommendation to NOAA
Fisheries on the State’s request, the Task Force will examine the data and
estimates provided in Oregon’s application, as well as other information
submitted by the public to NOAA Fisheries during this comment period, which
ends January 8, 2018.
Nominations for the Task Force and comments
regarding sea lions at Willamette Falls and Oregon’s proposal should be
submitted to NOAA Fisheries (identify by NOAA-NMFS-2017-0126) electronically
via the Federal eRulemaking Portal (http://www.regulations.gov). Go
to https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=NOAA-NMFS-2017-0126, click the “Comment Now!” icon, complete the required fields, and
enter or attach your comments.
Or mail comments to National Marine Fisheries
Service, 1201 NE Lloyd Blvd., Suite 1100, Portland, OR 97232; ATTN: Protect
Resources Division, Portland Branch Chief, NOAA-NMFS-2017-0126.
More information is at http://www.westcoast.fisheries.noaa.gov/stories/2017/08_11082017_sea_lion_predation.html.
For further information, contact Robert
Anderson, NMFS, West Coast Region, at (503) 231-2226.
--CBB, September 22, 2017, “Biologists Tell Council
That Sea Lion Predation Puts Willamette Winter Steelhead At Extinction Risk,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/439601.aspx
-- CBB, Aug. 11, 2017, “ODFW Analysis: With
Continued Sea Lion Predation Willamette Winter Steelhead At Risk Of Extinction”
--CBB, June 23, 2017, “Oregon To Seek Permit
To Lethally Remove Salmonid-Eating Sea Lions At Willamette Falls,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/439150.aspx
--CBB, July 15, 2016, “NOAA Re-Authorizes
States To Lethally Remove Salmon-Eating California Sea Lions At Bonneville
--CBB, June 17, 2016, “Final 2016 Pinniped
Report: Sea Lion Salmon Take Astoria To Bonneville Dam Could Be 20 Percent Of