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U.S. House Approves Bill Streamlining Sea Lion Removal Process For Columbia River, Tributaries
Posted on Friday, June 29, 2018 (PST)

A bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) aimed at improving the survival of Columbia River salmon and steelhead listed under the federal Endangered Species Act by selectively removing some predatory sea lions from the Columbia River and certain tributaries passed the U.S. House Tuesday with a 288-116 vote.


H.R. 2083, the Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act, would provide tribal and state resource managers with the means to “rapidly respond” to lethally remove a limited number of California and Steller sea lions from specific areas on the Columbia River where they are posing the most harm to salmon restoration efforts.


Co-sponsors are Rep. Kurt Schrader, (D-OR), Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA)

Rep. Don Young (R-AK), and Rep. Cathy McMorris (R-WA).


The bill, if signed into law, would amend Section 120 of the Marine Mammal Protection Act to authorize the Secretary of Commerce to provide states and local tribes “the tools necessary to humanely manage sea lions on the waters of the Columbia River and its tributaries as long as the sea lions are not listed under the Endangered Species Act.”


Specifically, the bill amends the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 to authorize the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to issue one-year permits allowing Washington, Oregon, Idaho, the Nez Perce Tribe, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, and the Cowlitz Indian Tribe to kill sea lions in a portion of the Columbia River or certain tributaries in order to protect fish from sea lion predation.


Permits may be issued to kill sea lions only if the sea lions are part of a population that is not depleted.


The permits may authorize the lethal taking of 100 sea lions or fewer. The cumulative annual taking of sea lions each year under all such permits would be limited to 10 percent of the “annual potential biological removal level.”


Permit holders must be trained in natural resource management, says the bill.


These permits “are exempted from environmental review requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 for five years,” says a summary of the bill.


NOAA may suspend the issuance of the permits if, after five years, lethal removal authority is no longer necessary to protect fish from sea lion predation.


The bill also says Washington state may enter into a memorandum of understanding with the Cowlitz Indian Tribe for deterrence and removal of sea lions on the Cowlitz River.


In addition, Oregon may enter into a memorandum of understanding with the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon and the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon for deterrence and removal of sea lions on the Willamette River.


The bill also says, “Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of the Interior shall study and report to the Congress on the potential effects of the lethal taking of sea lions on the recovery of salmonid stocks in the waters of the Columbia River and the tributaries of the Columbia River.”


A companion bill has been introduced in the U.S. Senate, sponsored by Sens. Jim Risch (R-ID) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA).


“For the salmon and steelhead fighting to make it upstream, today’s vote in the U.S. House significantly improves their chances of survival. The passage of my bipartisan bill signals a return to a healthy, balanced Columbia River ecosystem by reining in the unnatural, overcrowded sea lion population that is indiscriminately decimating our fish runs,” said Herrera Butler on the House floor Tuesday.


“We’re not anti-sea lion. We’re just for protecting a Pacific Northwest treasure: salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and other native fish species iconic to our region. My bill provides state and tribal managers with the tools they need to humanely manage the most problematic pinnipeds. Simply put, this measure cuts through the bureaucratic red tape, streamlines the permitting process, and allows states and tribes to rapidly respond to remove sea lions from areas they pose the most threat to salmon recovery.”


Co-Sponsor Schrader said, “Salmon are an important part of the culture, identity, and the economy of the people and tribes of the Pacific Northwest. It is one of the reasons why we’ve, as a region, put so much time, energy, and resources into protecting and recovering these iconic fish. Our bill will provide the states and tribal members the flexibility they need to protect these endangered fish and manage the threat posed by sea lion predation. I’m very pleased to have the support of so many of my colleagues in the House in tackling this issue in a bipartisan, thoughtful way.


Charles Hudson, Intergovernmental Affairs Director, Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, said, “The passage of H.R. 2083 is a demonstration of the unity and resolve the Northwest delegation consistently shows around salmon protection. Our tribes recognize and applaud the hard work and regional vetting that went into crafting this important legislation. It shows a lot of care, balance and scientific integrity. We are eager to get to work implementing this legislation.”


Shaun Clements, Senior Policy Advisor, Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, said, “ODFW very much appreciates the efforts of Rep. Herrera Beutler, Rep. Schrader, and the Northwest delegation to pass a bipartisan bill that provides us with the flexibility we need to address the conservation crisis occurring in the Columbia basin. For the past decade we have watched sea lion predation on some of Oregon’s iconic fish runs increase dramatically. Even as we have attempted to address all the other things affecting salmon, we have not been able to manage sea lions.


“This bill, if it also passes in the Senate, will mean that ODFW can take the actions needed to protect salmon and steelhead in the Willamette, Clackamas, and Sandy rivers as well as our iconic sturgeon in the lower Willamette.”


California sea lions and Steller sea lions are the target of the legislation.


The “Eastern Distinct Population Segment” Steller sea lion was listed under the ESA as threatened throughout its range on December 4, 1990. The listing included animals from Alaska, California, Oregon and Washington. This population was delisted on November 4, 2013 due to recovery.


California sea lions are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and range from southeast Alaska to the Pacific coast of central Mexico. Their primary breeding range is from the Channel Islands in southern California to central Mexico. NOAA Fisheries divides the California sea lion population into three stocks (United States, western Baja California, and Gulf of California) based on the location of major rookeries and the international border.


The U.S. stock waters ranges from the U.S./Mexico border to Canada.


In normal years, male California sea lions migrate during the winter to feeding areas off California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, Canada, and southeast Alaska but females and pups stay near the breeding colonies until the pups are weaned. In warm water (El Niño) years, some females are found as far north as Washington and Oregon, presumably following prey.


For background on sea lion salmon predation in the Columbia and Willamette rivers see:


--CBB, March 16, 2018, “Corps Report: Pinniped Predation Consumed 4.7 Percent Of Salmonids In 2017 In Bonneville Tailwater”


--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, 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,”


--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,”


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


--CBB, March 3, 2017, “Task Force On Sea Lion-Salmon Predation Mulls Ways To Reduce Pinniped Predation on ESA-Listed Stocks,”

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