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With New Permit, Oregon Begins Lethally Removing Sea Lions At Willamette Falls To Protect Steelhead
Posted on Friday, January 11, 2019 (PST)

After receiving approval from NOAA Fisheries in November to lethally remove sea lions at Willamette Falls, Oregon spent little time starting the program that could euthanize as many as 93 California sea lions this year at the Falls.


To date, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has lethally removed four California sea lions that were threatening wild winter steelhead at the Falls, according to Dr. Shaun Clements of Oregon State University and an ODFW policy analyst on the sea lion predation issue.


He said there currently are six to seven California sea lions waiting at the base of Willamette Falls, along with four to five of the larger steller sea lions. One of the California sea lions was euthanized this week (Jan. 9) and three in December.


“Steller sea lions continue to prey on sturgeon,” he said. “The California sea lions will be preying on winter steelhead.”


Although ODFW has yet to determine the amount of predation on both the steelhead and sturgeon this year, Clements said that observers were at the Falls beginning this week.


It’s “Hard to predict how many we’ll capture, maybe 20-30,” he said. “But most importantly we do expect to remove 90-plus percent of the animals that are present during the winter steelhead run.” That run is generally November through May each year, he added.


The three California sea lions that have been lethally removed were previously marked, according to Clements.


“Animals have to be seen at the falls at least two days to be removed,” he said. “Most have been here for multiple years though.”


Some 41 unclipped upper Willamette River winter steelhead, listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act, have been counted traveling over Willamette Falls so far in January.


Sea 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, ODFW in 2017 applied to NOAA for authorization to lethally remove a limited number of California sea lions under a MMPA, Section 20 permit.


California 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.


ODFW applied for the permit Oct.6, 2017, and in August 2018 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,”


Oregon 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 ODFW. 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.


The permit to lethally remove California sea lions does not apply to steller sea lions, which are present at the Falls in growing numbers and are protected by law.


ODFW 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.


California sea lions captured by Oregon biologists are transported to a secure facility and humanely euthanized by a veterinary staff, ODFW had previously 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.


Also see:


-- CBB, November 20, 2018, “Oregon Plan To Euthanize Sea Lions At Willamette Falls Approved By NOAA Fisheries,”


--CBB, August 17, 2018, “Willamette Falls Sea Lion Task Force Meets Three Days Next Week To Review Lethal Removal Request,”


--CBB, January 19, 2018, “West Coast California Sea Lion Population Has Rebounded; Meets Marine Mammal Protection Act Goal,”


--CBB, August 11, 2017, “ODFW Analysis: With Continued Sea Lion Predation Willamette Winter Steelhead At Risk Of Extinction,”


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