Three Willamette Falls sea lions have been killed so far by state managers under a recently issued federal permit, an action being taken to help the watershed’s threatened wild steelhead.
ODFW plans to lethally remove as many as 40 California sea lions in the first four months of the year, and are allowed to take out up to 93 a year.
The news, first reported yesterday by OPB and followed up by the Associated Press this morning, comes as at least 145 wild winter steelhead have been able to navigate past pinnipeds feasting below the falls as of the end of last month.
In 2015, they ate 25 percent of a very weak return, according to ODFW, which in 2017 estimated that there was a 90 percent chance that one of the Willamette’s ESA-listed runs would go extinct if nothing was done to counter predation by sea lions.
Attempts to capture and move them to the Oregon Coast were unsuccessful as the male marine mammals tended to just swim right back.
“The only fish in the river right now are the winter steelhead,” ODFW’s Bryan Wright told OPB. “If we can remove all these sea lions right now that will be a huge benefit to them.”
In mid-November, his agency was authorized by the National Marine Fisheries Service to begin killing CSLs seen at the falls and in the lower Clackamas River for at least two days or observed eating steelhead or salmon.
Last month, Northwest states and tribes were also authorized to lethally remove as many as 920 California sea lions and 249 Steller sea lions in portions of the Columbia and its salmon-bearing tributaries such as the Willamette to help address too many pinnipeds taking too big a bite out of ESA-listed salmon and steelhead stocks and help keep one of their new favorite targets, sturgeon, from ending up on the list too.