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Willamette Falls Sea Lion Task Force Meets Three Days Next Week To Review Lethal Removal Request
Posted on Friday, August 17, 2018 (PST)

Eighteen members of a task force will meet next week to review an Oregon request to lethally remove some sea lions at Willamette Falls on Oregon’s Willamette River to protect threatened and endangered fish that pass over the Falls into the upper reaches of the river and its tributaries.

 

The high predation of wild winter steelhead by California sea lions at the Falls is placing the fish at a high risk of extinction, Oregon says.

 

The meeting – August 20 – 22 at Portland’s Double Tree Hotel – is open to the public (see http://www.westcoast.fisheries.noaa.gov/protected_species/marine_mammals/task_force.willamette.html).

 

The Willamette Falls Pinniped Fishery Interaction Task Force, formed recently by NOAA, will evaluate Oregon’s Oct. 6, 2017 application to lethally remove California sea lions at the Falls and to provide NOAA with a recommendation to either approve or deny the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s application requesting that authorization under Section 120 of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

 

According to Robert Anderson, lead on pinniped predation for NOAA Fisheries, the state of Oregon provided a list of recommended task force nominees with their application. In addition, NOAA solicited nominations for the task force in its November 9, 2017, Federal Register notice ((https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2017/11/09/2017-24352/marine-mammals-pinniped-removal-authority).

 

“Where we had cross-jurisdictional interests with the Bonneville Task Force, some were contacted to see if they would serve on the Willamette Task Force as well,” Anderson said.

 

A list of task force members is at http://www.westcoast.fisheries.noaa.gov/publications/protected_species/marine_mammals/pinnipeds/sea_lion_removals/2018/willamette_falls_task_force_members_affiliations.pdf.

 

California sea lions picked off about 25 percent or more of the wild run of winter steelhead at the Falls in 2017, according to a report by ODFW. Upper Willamette River wild winter steelhead were listed as threatened under the federal endangered species act in March 1999 due to the impact on the native fish by federal dams and habitat loss. Harvest of the fish has not been allowed for more than 20 years.

 

The number of wild winter steelhead returning to tributaries in the upper Willamette River has been declining for a decade. The return in 2017 was the lowest on record, with 822 fish getting past Willamette Falls, but just 512 of those are native winter steelhead. The remainder is a self-sustaining population derived from a hatchery program that was discontinued decades ago, Dr. Shaun Clements, senior policy advisor with ODFW said last year. These additional fish turn into west-side tributaries, such as the Yamhill and Tualatin rivers.

 

An ODFW study found that “there is an up to 90 percent probability that at least one wild steelhead population of four populations will go extinct as a direct result of the predation. The near-term risk of wild steelhead extinction can be significantly reduced or avoided by limiting sea lion access to Willamette Falls.”

 

ODFW has tracked the presence of California sea lions at the 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.

 

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 to NOAA.

 

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.

 

The agenda for the three-day meeting is at http://www.westcoast.fisheries.noaa.gov/publications/protected_species/marine_mammals/pinnipeds/sea_lion_removals/2018/willamette_falls_pinniped-fishery_interaction_task_force_meeting_agenda_august_2018.pdf

 

Among the issues NOAA is asking the task force to consider are: If lethal removal is recommended, does the task force recommend a limit to the number of sea lions that can be removed? What limitations would the task force recommend on timing, location, take methods or duration of the authorization?

 

In addition, the task force’s instructions include: “There are various proposed pieces of legislation to amend Section 120 of the MMPA (e.g., HR 2083, S 1702S, 3119) in Congress. Of particular interest are the proposed modifications to the individually identifiable and significant negative impact criteria. Our initial assessment of the proposed legislation as it relates to these two criteria, is that measures for identifying predatory sea lions via branding, natural features, etc., and documenting predation to determine its impact on salmonid fishery stocks, would no longer be required. Instead, identification of sea lions for removal would be based on a geographic criterion, so that any sea lion within a specified geographic area, e.g., above river mile 112 on the Columbia River, or a tributary to the Columbia River that includes spawning habitat of threatened or endangered salmon or steelhead, would be deemed eligible for removal.”

 

The U.S. Senate is poised to vote on legislation that would change the MMPA by giving more flexibility to remove sea lions that prey upon threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River and in tributaries.

 

The bill, labeled the Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Act, passed the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation unopposed Aug. 1 and is now awaiting final approval. The bipartisan legislation was proposed by Sens. Jim Risch (R-ID) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA).

 

See CBB, August 10, 2018, “Legislation Streamlining Sea Lion Removal In Columbia River Basin Clears Senate Committee,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/441259.aspx

 

Finally, the task force is to consider what might be the most effective means to achieve a long-term resolution to pinniped—fishery interaction?

 

Public input is scheduled for the third day of the task force meeting, Aug.22, at 10:15 am. The task force is to finalize and vote on recommendations between 1:30 and 3:30 pm the same day.

 

Following the meeting, the task force has 60 days to provide NOAA with recommendations (to either deny or approve the states' application), and then NOAA has 30 days following receipt of the task force recommendations to make a decision (MMPA requires a decision to approve or deny the states’ application), according to Anderson.

 

“In real-time, and before the agency makes a decision, we have to comply with the requirements of the MMPA, the ESA, NEPA, and all other applicable laws,” he said.

 

Also 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, August 11, 2017, “ODFW Analysis: With Continued Sea Lion Predation Willamette Winter Steelhead At Risk Of Extinction,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/439416.aspx

 

--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, March 10, 2017, “Corps Report: Sea Lions In Bonneville Dam Tailrace In 2016 Consumed 4.5 Percent Of Spring Chinook” http://www.cbbulletin.com/438453.aspx

 

--CBB, July 15, 2016, “NOAA Re-Authorizes States To Lethally Remove Salmon-Eating California Sea Lions At Bonneville Dam,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/437133.aspx

 

--CBB, June 17, 2016, “Final 2016 Pinniped Report: Sea Lion Salmon Take Astoria To Bonneville Dam Could Be 20 Percent Of Run,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/436941.aspx

 

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