The majority of members of a Willamette Falls
pinniped task force that convened two months ago agreed that the number of sea
lions at Willamette Falls warrants lethal removal and recommended to NOAA
Fisheries that it proceed with issuing a permit under Section 120 of the Marine
Mammal Protection Act to lethally remove predatory California sea lions in
portions of the Willamette River.
That recommendation was compiled in the task
force’s final report of Oct. 15, 2018 (https://www.westcoast.fisheries.noaa.gov/publications/protected_species/marine_mammals/pinnipeds/sea_lion_removals/2018/willamette_falls_final_report___10-15-18.pdf).
The task force of 18 members, formed by NOAA,
met for nearly three days August 20 – 22 in Portland to evaluate the Oregon
Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Oct. 6, 2017 application for the permit to
lethally remove California sea lions from the Clackamas River upriver to
Willamette Falls in order to protect threatened salmon and steelhead.
Upper Willamette River spring chinook and
upper Willamette River winter steelhead are both listed as threatened under the
federal Endangered Species Act and California sea lions are having a
significant negative impact on their recovery, according to the Oct. 6, 2017
cover letter from Curt Melcher, ODFW director, to Barry Thom, NOAA’s Regional
Administrator, West Coast Region.
While the majority of California sea lions
that are in the Columbia River remain in the lower estuary, a rising number of
the animals are foraging further upstream on salmonids, eulachon, white
sturgeon and lamprey near Bonneville Dam and at Willamette Falls, Melcher said.
Single-day sightings of California sea lions at the Falls were five to six
animals in the 1990s, but the number increased to 40 in 2017, and they are
staying longer to feast on salmon and steelhead.
ODFW monitoring at Willamette Falls (2014 –
2017) found annual minimum predation estimates ranging from 11 to 25 percent of
the threatened steelhead and from 6 to 9 percent of the threatened spring
Wild winter steelhead numbers have declined
significantly during the past decade, with a record low return in 2017 of just
512 fish. A population viability analysis for the four upper Willamette River
steelhead populations demonstrates that sea lions have a significant negative
effect on population viability for three of the four populations, the Melcher
letter says. The probability of quasi-extinction increases from 0-5 percent in
the absence of California sea lion predation to 20-64 percent if predation
levels observed in 2017 continue into the future.
ODFW in its application said it wants to
lethally remove individually-identified California sea lions that have a
significant negative impact on ESA-listed salmon and steelhead. Identification
would be based on natural or applied features that allow them to be
individually distinguished from other sea lions.
ODFW defines targeted sea lions as those that
meet at least one of two criteria:
1. They have been observed eating at least one
salmonid between Willamette Falls and the mouth of the Clackamas River between
November 1 and August 15 of any year.
2. They have been observed between Willamette
Falls and the mouth of the Clackamas River on a total of any three calendar
days (consecutive days, days within a single season, or days over multiple
years) between November 1 and August 15 of any year.
The state said that sea lion removals would be
limited to one percent of the California sea lion biological removal level, and
when possible it would transfer trapped sea lions to holding facilities (zoos,
aquariums) for permanent captivity.
For lethal removal, it said it would capture,
hold and use euthanasia protocols.
“Removals will not be contingent on any
non-lethal hazing activities as they have repeatedly been shown to have no
long-term beneficial effects at this and other similar locations,” ODFW’s
The Willamette Falls sea lion task force
agreed to these conditions, allowing lethal removal of California sea lions
from the mouth of the Clackamas River (downstream of Willamette Falls) to the
Falls itself, but reduced to two the number of consecutive calendar days on
which a sea lion must be observed.
The task force also considered the impact U.S.
Senate legislation would have on a task force decision, deciding it would meet
by phone to discuss the impact if the legislation is approved. That legislation
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
The bill, labeled the Endangered Salmon and
Fisheries Predation Act, passed the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and
Transportation unopposed Aug. 1 and is still awaiting final approval. The
bipartisan legislation was proposed by Sens. Jim Risch (R-ID) and Maria
(See CBB, August 10, 2018, “Legislation
Streamlining Sea Lion Removal In Columbia River Basin Clears Senate Committee,”
Willamette Falls sea lion task force website
is at https://www.westcoast.fisheries.noaa.gov/protected_species/marine_mammals/task_force.willamette.html
ODFW’s application is at https://www.westcoast.fisheries.noaa.gov/publications/protected_species/marine_mammals/pinnipeds/sea_lion_removals/2018/state_of_oregon_section_120_application__with_steelhead_pva_.pdf
The Melcher cover letter is at https://www.westcoast.fisheries.noaa.gov/publications/protected_species/marine_mammals/pinnipeds/sea_lion_removals/2018/state_of_oregon_section_120_application_cover_letter.pdf
--CBB, August 17, 2018, “Willamette Falls Sea
Lion Task Force Meets Three Days Next Week To Review Lethal Removal Request,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/441299.aspx
-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
--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
--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