A pair of legislators from the west sides of Washington and Oregon today introduced a bill in Congress that would address sea lion predation in the Lower Columbia.
Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Southwest Washington Republican, and Rep. Kurt Schrader, a Northwest Oregon Democrat, teamed up on 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.”
Similarly titled bills introduced in previous years haven’t gone anywhere, but the Columbia Inter-Tribal Fisheries Commission immediately supported it, saying they’ve “consistently supported the efforts of the Northwest Congressional delegation to amend Section 120 of the Marine Mammal Protection Act for greater clarity and efficiency.”
A “key” provision in the bill would provide tribes in Eastern Oregon, Eastern Washington and the middle Snake River basin with the same authority to act as the two states.
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.
“Our tribes are working hard to restore balance, wherever we can, in a highly altered and degraded river system. The Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act are thoughtful laws that need to be reconciled with one another,” CRITFC’s executive director, Paul Lumley, said in a press release. “The Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act honors the underlying intent of both laws while providing professional fisheries managers with tools to manage both Protected and Endangered Species.”
According to CRITFC, the bill:
* Accelerates the process for granting lethal take authority;
* Limits the cumulative level of lethal take to 1% of annual biological potential removal level;
* Further limits the lethal take to 10 animals per permit holder;
* And spurs the Secretary of Commerce to report on any additional legislation needed to amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act within two years.
“Predation from sea lions is a serious, growing threat to salmon and steelhead recovery efforts in the Pacific Northwest, as well as the future of our fisheries,” said Gary Loomis, founder of G.Loomis, Edge Rods and Coastal Conservation Association in the Pacific Northwest, in a press release.
According to CRITFC, state and tribal biologists estimate that 20 percent of the spring Chinook run is gobbled up by sea lions in the Columbia below Bonneville.
Large numbers have already gathered on the docks in Astoria, though that could also be due to the smelt run. Last year’s was the best in quite awhile.
According to last week’s Columbia Basin Bulletin, the number of California sea lions in the river has swelled from 250 or less before 2012 to 1,500 last year.
CBB also noted that sea lions ate 8 percent of the Willamette springer run at the falls, and 13 percent of the steelhead run.
Herrera Beutler’s office said that the number of sea lions relocated by WDFW has grown from 80 in 2010 to 616 in 2014.
“As the people of the Northwest invest millions annually towards salmon recovery on the Columbia River, it is important that tribal and government fish managers have the necessary tools to restore balance between abundant sea lion populations and the endangered salmon and steelhead populations,” said Guy Norman, WDFW regional director for the Lower Columbia. “We have been entrusted to protect these endangered fish populations and this legislation introduced by Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler gives us the tools we need.”