Fisheries approved Oregon’s request to lethally remove up to 93 sea lions per
year at Willamette Falls where the pinnipeds are eating as much as 25 percent
of wild winter steelhead adults and up to 9 percent of wild spring chinook,
both threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act.
lions are protected under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, but after
trying hazing and non-lethal removal of the California sea lions for years to
discourage them from hanging out at Willamette Falls, the Oregon Department of
Fish and Wildlife last year applied to NOAA for authorization to lethally
remove a limited number of California sea lions under a MMPA Section 20 permit.
applied for the permit Oct.6, 2017, and this August NOAA convened an 18-member
Willamette Falls Pinniped Task Force that in an Oct. 15 recommendation said the
permit should be authorized (see CBB, October 26, 2018, “Willamette Falls
Pinniped Task Force Recommends Lethal Removal Of California Sea Lions,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/441726.aspx).
filed for the application because its analyses showed that the high levels of
predation by sea lions (25 percent of the steelhead run in 2017) meant there
was an almost 90 percent probability that one of the upper Willamette steelhead
runs would go extinct, according to an ODFW news release. The level of
predation on spring chinook, although lower (7-9 percent each year), was still
enough to increase the extinction risk by 10-15 percent.
is good news for the native runs of salmon and steelhead in the Willamette
River,” said Dr. Shaun Clements, ODFW policy analyst on the sea lion issue.
“Before this decision, the state’s hands were tied as far as limiting sea lion
predation on the Willamette River. We did put several years’ effort into
non-lethal deterrence, none of which worked. The unfortunate reality is that,
if we want to prevent extinction of the steelhead and chinook, we will have to
lethally remove sea lions at this location.”
said the permit to lethally remove California sea lions does not apply to the
much larger steller sea lions, which are present at the Falls in growing
numbers and that prey to a large extent on white sturgeon in the Willamette
sea lions are preying heavily on sturgeon in the lower Willamette, but current
federal law prohibits us from doing anything about that,” said Clements.
sea lions in the U.S. are not listed as endangered or threatened under the
federal Endangered Species Act. The most recent population estimate for the sea
lions in the U.S. was 296,750 animals in 2016.
requested and was granted authority to remove up to one percent of the
population’s “potential biological removal” level, a metric that translates to
a maximum of 93 animals a year on the lower Willamette River.
to ODFW’s Marine Mammal Program Lead Dr. Shea Steingass, there are 50-100
animals that are present at the Falls at some point in the year.
of these sub-adult and adult males will have no impact on viability of the sea
lion population but will greatly improve the outlook for threatened upper
Willamette winter steelhead runs,” she said. “We currently have up to 12
animals at the Falls and a majority of those have been seen here every year for
the past 10 years.”
the authorization to lethally remove California sea lions, she added, ODFW can
move forward with its plans to trap and remove the animals from the Willamette
to the federal authorization, to remove an individual sea lion, ODFW must first
observe a sea lion in the area between Willamette Falls and the mouth of the
Clackamas River for two days, or the sea lion must be seen eating salmonids.
sea lions captured by Oregon biologists will be transported to a secure
facility and humanely euthanized by a veterinary staff, ODFW said. Staff will
also perform a necropsy and collect samples to determine the age, health and
diet of the animal in an effort to better understand ecology and behavior of
the sea lions. ODFW will continue to monitor sea lion predation at Willamette
Falls and report its findings to NOAA, which will decide in five years whether
to renew ODFW’s authority.
said that removing the sea lions is about striking a balance between the
recovery of imperiled salmon and steelhead and the ongoing conservation of sea
are trying to prevent a few individual sea lions from habituating to these
areas that are hundreds of miles from the ocean where they are especially
effective at driving already depleted fish populations further down the path to
extinction,” he said.
by pinnipeds also threatens to undermine the gains made by significant regional
investments in recovery efforts, according to ODFW, such as improvements in
fish passage at dams, restoration of fish habitat and implementation of fishing
regulations that prohibit anglers from harvesting wild fish.
MMPA, unlike the ESA, has fewer tools for managers to use to balance the
conservation of predators and prey and prevent these situations in locations
where fish are most vulnerable. Sections of the MMPA were revised in 1994 to
allow limited management of sea lions for the purpose of protecting ESA-listed
salmon and steelhead.
ODFW said, the revisions do not allow for proactive management and cannot
address emergencies like that occurring at Willamette Falls.
this regard, ODFW has been working with Oregon’s congressional delegation,
which is working on a legislative solution that would give wildlife managers
broader authority to deal with conservation problems if they arise elsewhere in
the Columbia Basin,” ODFW said
optimistic that we’ll get what we need from Congress, but also nervous that
time is running out to get this done before the end of the congressional
calendar,” said Clements.
its deliberations, the sea lion task force had 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
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).
CBB, August 10, 2018, “Legislation Streamlining Sea Lion Removal In Columbia
River Basin Clears Senate Committee,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/441259.aspx)
Falls sea lion task force website is at https://www.westcoast.fisheries.noaa.gov/protected_species/marine_mammals/task_force.willamette.html
and the final report of Oct. 15, 2018 is at (https://www.westcoast.fisheries.noaa.gov/publications/protected_species/marine_mammals/pinnipeds/sea_lion_removals/2018/willamette_falls_final_report___10-15-18.pdf).
2017 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
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
March 16, 2018, “Corps Report: Pinniped Predation Consumed 4.7 Percent Of
Salmonids In 2017 In Bonneville Tailwater,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/440368.aspx
January 19, 2018, “West Coast California Sea Lion Population Has Rebounded;
Meets Marine Mammal Protection Act Goal,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/440111.aspx
August 11, 2017, “ODFW Analysis: With Continued Sea Lion Predation Willamette
Winter Steelhead At Risk Of Extinction,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/439416.aspx
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
July 15, 2016, “NOAA Re-Authorizes States To Lethally Remove Salmon-Eating
California Sea Lions At Dam,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/437133.aspx
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