The Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association is lending its support to a bipartisan sea lion management bill that had a hearing in Washington DC this week.
“It’s long past time for an amendment to the (Marine Mammal Protection Act) to prevent an outcome whereby the protection of one species precipitates the extinction of another,” wrote Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Portland-based organization in a letter to the Water, Power and Ocean Subcommittee of the House Natural Resource Committee.
Members were hearing about HR 2083, the Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act, introduced by Washington Rep. Jaime Herrera-Beutler (R) with cosponsorship from Oregon Rep. Kurt Schrader (D), among others.
The bill would in part provide four Columbia River tribes with the authority to remove problem California sea lions from more of the lower river, as well its tributaries.
Hamilton addressed pinniped predation in the Willamette in her letter, noting that the area below the falls is not unlike the fish death trap at Bonneville Dam on the Columbia.
“Unable to escape or go elsewhere, they are trapped like sitting ducks for the growing numbers of sea lions congregating below the falls in Oregon City. I fished in this area with my family for over 30 years and watched firsthand the arrival, then growth in numbers of marine mammals and the growing consumption of steelhead, salmon and sturgeon,” she wrote.
Hamilton says that they’re affecting the near-recovery of ESA-listed Willamette winter steelhead, and that a draft estimate of sea lion consumption rates on this season’s run is 25 percent, up from 2015 and 2016’s 15 percent.
“This 25 percent consumption rate is especially disturbing as the winter steelhead run has collapsed to one-tenth of the 10-year average, down to less than 1,000 fish,” she writes. “We fear the sea lions will consume this race of fish to extinction, much as they did to the steelhead in the mid 1990’s at Ballard Locks, near Seattle Washington, due to ineffective actions that occurred too late to prevent the catastrophe.”
Hamilton’s letter adds to testimony before the Water, Power and Ocean Subcommittee by Leland Bill, chairman of the Columbia River Inter-Tribe Fish Commission. He told members that “data shows a growing predation problem” but “that the current approach is not enough. I’m here to tell you that more needs to be done.”
In another letter of support, Coastal Conservation Association’s Oregon and Washington chapters called the situation “critical.”
“We simply must act before it’s too late,” wrote Chris Cone and Nello Picinich, executive directors of the two chapters.
“Northwest sportfishing for salmon and steelhead is more than an economic engine and a cultural birthright, it is a funding source for conservation. License fees, collected primarily through NSIA retailers, fund much of the conservation mission at the fish and wild life agencies. In addition, our industry pays a federal excise tax on manufactured goods that is returned to the states through the Sport Fish Restoration fund. Even for those who do not fish, salmon are an ever-present icon — seen on our license plates, on buildings and artwork everywhere. For the Native American Tribes in the Northwest, salmon are a sacred part of their culture.”
She said that while industries such as forestry, agriculture and power production are regulated to minimize fish impacts, “the consumption of salmon and steelhead by marine mammals grows, nearly unchecked, at an alarming rate.”