U.S. Senate legislation that would change the
existing Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 by giving more flexibility to
remove sea lions that prey upon threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead in
the Columbia River passed one last hurdle before full Senate approval.
The Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation
Act passed the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation
unopposed Aug. 1 and is now awaiting final approval. It could still receive
Senate approval before its August recess which this year will not begin until
The bipartisan legislation was proposed by Sens.
Jim Risch (R-ID) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA).
“Threatened and endangered species of salmon
are being damaged by sea lions in the Columbia River, severely impacting
Idaho’s efforts to restore the populations,” said Risch. “I’m grateful to
Chairman Thune and ranking member Nelson for making this a committee priority
and for quickly advancing our bill.”
SB 3119 is a companion bill to HR 2083 already
passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. There are minor differences
between the two that will need to be reconciled if the Senate bill passes
before the Senate recess. The House bill was sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jaime
Herrera Beutler (R-WA) and co-sponsored by Rep. Kurt Schrader, (D-OR), Rep. Dan
Newhouse (R-WA), Rep. Don Young (R-AK), and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA).
(see CBB, June 29, 2018, “U.S. House Approves Bill Streamlining Sea Lion
Removal Process For Columbia River, Tributaries,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/441026.aspx).
“Wild salmon are central to the culture,
economy, and tribal treaty rights of the Pacific Northwest and protecting these
fish is crucial to the health of Southern resident orcas," Cantwell said.
“This science-based, bipartisan bill enhances existing tools that state and
tribal wildlife managers need to address salmon predation, protect the health
of sea lion stocks, and ensure that we are managing wildlife based on the best
science available. Pacific salmon should be protected for generations to come.”
According to Washington Northwest Power and
Conservation Council member Guy Norman, sea lions kill as much as 43 percent of
the spring chinook salmon that migrate upstream in the Columbia River.
“This is an immediate problem that needs an
immediate solution, a more streamlined and effective process for removing the
most problematic sea lions,” Norman said. “The bill enables states and tribes
to deal with a major bottleneck to salmon survival. It's a big win for the fish
and for the people of the Northwest who are deeply invested in salmon
A recent Oregon State University study found
that increasing predation from sea lions has decreased the fishery harvest of
adult chinook salmon in the Pacific Northwest, Cantwell’s news release says.
According to the study, if sea lions continue their current salmon consumption
habits, there is an 89 percent chance that a population of wild steelhead could
go extinct. The study also noted that future long-term salmon management plans
will need to address the increased salmon predation throughout the Pacific Northwest.
The study is at https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/4254787-Chasco-Et-Al.html.
Also see CBB, December 1, 2017, “Recovery Of
West Coast Marine Mammals Dramatically Increasing Consumption Of Chinook
and CBB, June 23, 2017, “Puget Sound Study: Pinniped Predation On Juvenile
Salmon Making Salmon Recovery More Difficult,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/439144.aspx.
A summary of the Senate bill states (https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-bill/3119)
that the bill amends the MMPA by authorizing the NOAA administrator to issue
one year permits allowing Washington, Oregon, Idaho, the Nez Perce Tribe, the
tribes of the Umatilla, Warm Springs, and Yakima nations, the Cowlitz Indian
Tribe, and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission to kill sea lions in
parts of the Columbia River and certain tributaries in order to protect fish
from sea lion predation.
The permits would only be issued if the sea
lions are a part of a population that isn’t already depleted.
The permits may authorize the lethal taking of
100 sea lions or fewer, the summary says. The cumulative annual taking of sea
lions each year under all such permits is limited to 10 percent of the annual
potential biological removal level.
Permit holders must be trained in natural
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.
Federal, state, and tribal governments and
other organizations have made significant conservation and restoration
investments throughout the Pacific Northwest, according to an Aug. 1 Council
blog post by Carol Winkel.
“Sea lion populations have increased
significantly along the West Coast over the past 40 years; today, there are
roughly 300,000 (California sea lions),” the blog says. “These sea lions have
entered into habitat where they had never been before, including areas around the
Bonneville Dam and Willamette Falls.”
The bill has wide support from Northwest
states, state agencies and salmon and steelhead advocates.
“Congressional action is critical to reducing
the numbers of sea lions that prey on salmon and steelhead in the Columbia
River Basin,” said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Bruce
Botka. “We welcome the Senate’s progress and look forward to final passage of
legislation that will enable the Northwest states and our tribal partners to
better protect endangered fish.”
“We applaud the bi-partisan leadership of
Senators Cantwell and Risch to get unanimous support today from the Senate
Commerce Committee for S. 3119. The bill will expand the ongoing efforts of
tribal and state co-managers who have collaborated both on the river and in
Congress to address sea lion predation. This legislation reconciles two
important conservation laws while it also recognizes the four treaty tribe’s
expertise and role as caretakers of ancestral resources in the lower Columbia
River basin,” said Jaime Pinkham, Executive Director of CRITFC.
“This bill provides a thoughtful and practical
approach to addressing sea lion predation in critical areas of the Columbia
River,” said Guido Rahr, President of the Wild Salmon Center. “It also for the
first time enables managers to respond before the number and habits of sea
lions become an insurmountable problem for returning wild salmon and steelhead
populations. Salmon recovery requires a multi-faceted response. We appreciate
the leadership of Senator Cantwell on this issue.”
“Senator Cantwell has stepped up during a
crisis and delivered a solution to prevent extinction of fragile Columbia Basin
salmon and steelhead stocks,” said Liz Hamilton, executive director of the
Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. “The businesses of NSIA are
appreciative of the Senator’s leadership in resolving this very tough issue.
All who care about salmon recovery, food for Southern Resident Killer Whales,
and have jobs that depend on healthy fish stocks owe Senator Cantwell our
Sen. Maria Cantwell’s news release is at https://www.cantwell.senate.gov/news/press-releases/cantwells-bipartisan-legislation-to-protect-salmon-bolster-existing-laws-to-manage-sea-lion-populations-passes-key-senate-committee
Sen. Jim Risch’s news release is at https://www.risch.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/pressreleases?ID=392F2149-9DA1-4469-933E-1EA9A35D74E4
The Council blog by Carol Winkel is at https://www.nwcouncil.org/news/cantwell-s-bipartisan-legislation-protect-salmon-bolster-existing-laws-manage-sea-lion
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” http://www.cbbulletin.com/440368.aspx
--CBB, January 19, 2018, “West Coast
California Sea Lion Population Has Rebounded; Meets Marine Mammal Protection
Act Goal,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/440111.aspx
--CBB, December 1, 2017, “NOAA Invites
Comments On Lethal Removal Of Sea Lions At Willamette Falls; Threat To Listed
--CBB, September 22, 2017, “Biologists Tell
Council That Sea Lion Predation Puts Willamette Winter Steelhead At Extinction
-- 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
--CBB, March 10, 2017, “Corps Report: Sea
Lions In Bonneville Dam Tailrace In 2016 Consumed 4.5 Percent Of Spring
--CBB, March 3, 2017, “Task Force On Sea
Lion-Salmon Predation Mulls Ways To Reduce Pinniped Predation on ESA-Listed