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Legislation Streamlining Sea Lion Removal In Columbia River Basin Clears Senate Committee
Posted on Friday, August 10, 2018 (PST)

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 Aug. 25.


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,”


“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 recovery.”


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


Also see CBB, December 1, 2017, “Recovery Of West Coast Marine Mammals Dramatically Increasing Consumption Of Chinook Salmon,”, and CBB, June 23, 2017, “Puget Sound Study: Pinniped Predation On Juvenile Salmon Making Salmon Recovery More Difficult,”


A summary of the Senate bill states ( 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 resource management.


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 deepest gratitude.”


Sen. Maria Cantwell’s news release is at


Sen. Jim Risch’s news release is at


The Council blog by Carol Winkel is at


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, “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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