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Northwest Governors Urge Congressional Delegation To Act On Sea Lion Predation Bill
Posted on Friday, February 02, 2018 (PST)

The governors of Oregon, Washington and Idaho in a letter urged members of the Northwest congressional delegation to support legislation that would help reduce predation by sea lions on salmon and steelhead, sturgeon and lamprey.


H.R. 2083 is sponsored by Rep. Jamie Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) and Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.). The House bill has cleared the Natural Resources Committee. The federal legislation gives local agencies the ability to better control predation by sea lions in the Columbia and Willamette rivers.


“I am pleased to see bipartisan support for my bill continue to grow,” Herrera Beutler said in a statement. “As the governors stated in their letter, we must act to protect our native Columbia River salmon and steelhead. I am hopeful that the senators from Oregon and Washington will also join in supporting this bill to successfully move it through Congress.”


Gov. Kate Brown (Oregon), Gov. Jay Inslee (Washington) and Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter (Idaho) sent the letter Jan. 25 to the 17 members of Congress who represent the three states, urging them to support legislation ”aimed at reducing sea lion predation on threatened and endangered and other at-risk fish populations.”


“Although several hundred million dollars are invested annually to rebuild these native fish runs, their health and sustainability is threatened unless Congress acts to enhance protection from increasing sea lion predation,” the letter says. “Over the last decade, predation by sea lions on salmon, steelhead, sturgeon, and lamprey in the Columbia River has increased dramatically.”


The letter is at


About 20 percent of adult spring chinook salmon are consumed each year by California and Steller sea lions, many at the foot of Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River and at Willamette Falls on the Willamette River.


“More recent year research by NOAA Fisheries has found that up to 45 percent of spring Chinook adult salmon disappear between the estuary and Bonneville Dam. Much of that loss can be attributed to sea lions,” the letter says.


Numbers of California sea lions along the West Coast, once about 90,000 before the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection was enacted, reached 306,220 in 2012 before declining due to warm ocean conditions when food became scarcer. The number dropped to about 250,000 in 2013 and 2014, according to a comprehensive population assessment of the species published in January in The Journal of Wildlife Management.


In addition, wild winter steelhead on the Willamette River are at risk of extinction if the current rate of predation continues. The steelhead were listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act in March 1999. Some 25 percent of the run of the wild steelhead are picked off by California sea lions each year at Willamette Falls, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, which has filed with NOAA Fisheries for a Section 120 permit to lethally remove a number of sea lions each year.


(See CBB, August 11, 2017, “ODFW Analysis: With Continued Sea Lion Predation Willamette Winter Steelhead At Risk Of Extinction,”


In addition to spring chinook and steelhead, the letter continues, Columbia River sturgeon are being impacted by sea lion predation at alarming rates.


“It’s hard to imagine successful recovery of threatened and endangered fish populations with these high levels of interception by sea lions,” the letter says.


H.R. 2083, the Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Protection Act, if passed by Congress, would augment existing state, federal, and tribal authorities and allow quicker and more efficient intervention, but it would still limit lethal removal. A Senate companion bill – S. S 1702 – is sponsored by Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho).


“Hopefully, both parties can agree on a version of this bill that will gain broad bipartisan support in the Senate as well as the House,” the letter says. “No one wants to harm these great marine mammals, but effectively dealing with a small fraction of the healthy sea lion population is preferable to losing unique and irreplaceable species of salmon.”


Sea lions are not listed under the ESA, but they are protected under the federal MMPA. However, unlike the ESA, the MMPA has fewer tools for managers to use to balance the conservation of predators and prey.


Sections 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.


Also see:


--CBB, January 19, 2018, “West Coast California Sea Lion Population Has Rebounded; Meets Marine Mammal Protection Act Goal,”


--CBB, December 1, 2017, “Recovery Of West Coast Marine Mammals Dramatically Increasing Consumption Of Chinook Salmon,”


--CBB, December 1, 2017, “NOAA Invites Comments On Lethal Removal Of Sea Lions At Willamette Falls; Threat To Listed Steelhead,”


--CBB, September 22, 2017, “Biologists Tell Council That Sea Lion Predation Puts Willamette Winter Steelhead At Extinction Risk,”


-- CBB, July 28, 2017, “Bill To Expedite Sea Lion Removal Clears House Natural Resources Committee, Heads To Floor,”


-- CBB, July 14, 2017, “Ocean Conditions, Sea Lions Faulted For Low Willamette Steelhead Return; Only 822 Wild Steelhead,”


--CBB, June 23, 2017, “Oregon To Seek Permit To Lethally Remove Salmonid-Eating Sea Lions At Willamette Falls,”


-- CBB, March 10, 2017, “Corps Report: Sea Lions In Bonneville Dam Tailrace In 2016 Consumed 4.5 Percent Of Spring Chinook”


--CBB, July 15, 2016, “NOAA Re-Authorizes States To Lethally Remove Salmon-Eating California Sea Lions At Bonneville Dam,”


--CBB, June 17, 2016, “Final 2016 Pinniped Report: Sea Lion Salmon Take Astoria To Bonneville Dam Could Be 20 Percent Of Run,”


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