The U.S. House today passed the Senate’s Columbia sea lion bill and it now heads to President Trump’s desk for his signature, according to Northwest lawmakers.
The bipartisan Endangered Salmon Predation Prevention Act, which gives states and tribes more leeway to manage the predatory pinnipeds feasting on ESA-listed Chinook and steelhead as well as other stocks in the river and its tributaries, was approved by unanimous consent, just as it was in the upper chamber last week.
“I suspect many would wish the times were different and this legislation wasn’t necessary,” said Jaime Pinkham, executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. “But the reality is that this legislation has become necessary. Tribal and state fisheries co-managers collaborated to explore and implement alternatives for over a decade and the imbalance shifted the greatest risks to the salmon and steelhead, and we remember how the story ended at Ballard Locks. I’m grateful Congress worked in a bipartisan manner to give us the local flexibility to protect the tribal treaty resources we share with others in the Columbia and Willamette rivers.”
S.3119, as the bill is known, was cosponsored by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Jim Risch (R-ID).
“Today’s passage of our bill to control sea lions was a hard-fought victory – it’s a personal victory for each of us who treasure our Northwest salmon runs and want to see them preserved for generations to come,” said Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA-3) in a joint press release with Rep. Kurt Schrader (OR-5). “I’m grateful for the partnership of my colleague Kurt Schrader, and for Senators Risch and Cantwell for shepherding this through the Senate. I’m so pleased we are able to give Northwest fish managers this critical tool to help save our salmon and steelhead runs.”
Herrera Beutler, a Republican, and Schrader, a Democrat, represent communities on either side of the Lower Columbia.
Schrader said it was a problem he’d worked on since first coming to Congress.
“Ratepayers and my constituents are paying hundreds of millions of dollars annually towards the largest mitigation program in the country for threatened and endangered salmon. These sea lions, whose population has become totally inconsistent with their historic range, have been undoing all of that work by feasting on the endangered species. Our legislation will provide a great step forward in eliminating this threat to our iconic Oregon salmon that are struggling to survive once and for all,” he said in a press release.
In another quickly issued press release, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Yakima Valley) applauded the “bipartisan effort to improve management of pinnipeds threatening salmon” in both chambers of Congress.
“We really appreciate our state’s Congressional delegation’s leadership and support to pass this legislation,” added Nate Pamplin, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s policy director. “The sea lion population in the Lower Columbia River has increased dramatically in recent years, presenting a greater threat to wild salmon and steelhead runs than ever before.”
He said the bill, which had widespread support not just in the aisles of Congress but among stakeholders, would “provide us and co-managers with the tools needed to protect these vulnerable fish populations.”
Rodmaker Gary Loomis of Coastal Conservation Association said “CCA was proud to be part of this coalition effort and is thankful of the years of efforts by our members in support of this legislation.”
The news actually came as state salmon managers and sportfishing industry officials were meeting in Clackamas to review the 2019 Columbia spring Chinook forecast, which is roughly just one-half of the 10-year average.
That is due in part to very poor ocean conditions in recent years, but in 2014, the loss of 40 percent of the year’s first Columbia salmon run — an estimated 104,333 fish — was attributed to sea lion predation.
So when the bill came before federal lawmakers in Washington DC this afternoon, NSIA’s Liz Hamilton says that ODFW staffers paused the run forecast meeting to watch on the big screen.
“Applause all around,” she said of the room’s reaction to the House’s move, “combined with optimism for the future of Willamette wild winter steelhead and hope for other stocks deeply impacted by pinniped predation, including sturgeon.”
Earlier this fall federal overseers granted ODFW a permit to remove up to 93 sea lions around Willamette Falls after state officials estimated that there was a 90 percent chance one of the Oregon trib’s steelhead runs would go extinct if nothing was done.
The states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho have had federal permission to remove specific animals gathered at Bonneville Dam since March 2008.
This bill, which amends the Marine Mammal Protection Act for five years, extends that authority to the Yakama, Nez Perce, Umatilla and Warm Springs Tribes and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.
It allows for the lethal removal of sea lions in the Columbia from the dam down to River Mile 112 and upstream to McNary Dam, as well as in the river’s tributaries with ESA-listed salmonids.