Recent weeks have seen record numbers of sea lions at Bonneville, and salmonid predation at the Columbia River dam has also been twice as high as the average of the previous 13 years.
According to data from the Army Corps of Engineers, an estimated 5,878 spring Chinook and steelhead have been chowed down there by pinnipeds through May 6.
That’s more than twice the 2002-14 average of 2,766 for the same time frame.
The news was first reported by Columbia Basin Bulletin.
The Corps also says there were record one-day counts of 62 California sea lions on April 29 and 69 Steller sea lions on April 22, and the new daily record for all pinnipeds — 116, set April 22 — shatters the old high mark of 71 set in 2010.
The average daily count is 35, nearly 20 more than last year and 11 higher than the previous high of 24 in 2010.
On the flip side, sturgeon predation has been very low, just an estimated 34 versus the 2006-14 average for the same time of 1,284.
A total of 14 California sea lions have been trapped and euthanized, while two others and a Steller have accidentally died in trap malfunctions at the dam.
This year’s spring Chinook count stands just below 182,000, with a quarter million now expected back to the mouth.
It’s unclear how many may have been intercepted on their way to the dam; a federal estimate last year suggested as much as 40 percent of the run might have been overhauled by pinnipeds.
Earlier this year, record numbers of California sea lions and harbor seals gathered at the mouth of the Columbia as a decent smelt run made its way towards the Cowlitz and other rivers.
In January, a pair of Lower Columbia Congressmen, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Southwest Washington Republican, and Rep. Kurt Schrader, a Northwest Oregon Democrat, teamed up to introduce the Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act, which aims to “improve the survival of endangered salmon, steelhead and other native fish species in the Columbia River system.”
According to a press release from Herrera Beutler, it would authorize tribal members — under the training of U.S. Fish and Wildlife staff — to use lethal force to remove sea lions after multiple attempts at relocation have been unsuccessful.
The states of Oregon and Washington already have that authority.
The bill has been referred to committee.