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Willamette Falls Pinniped Task Force Recommends Lethal Removal Of California Sea Lions
Posted on Friday, October 26, 2018 (PST)

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 chinook salmon.

 

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 application says.

 

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 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 still 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)

 

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

 

Also see:

 

--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 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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