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Commentaries and editorials

Risch, Cantwell Introduce Bill to Reduce
Sea Lions in Columbia, to Save Salmon, Steelhead

by Betsy Russell
Idaho Press, June 24, 2018

"We must continue to support science-based management methods
to ensure future generations have access to wild Pacific Northwest salmon."

Graphic: Sea Lion consumption of salmon has changed recently with Stellar Sea Lions now stay thoughout much of the year. Idaho GOP Sen. Jim Risch and Washington Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell have introduced legislation to allow fisheries managers in the Columbia River and its tributaries to apply for permits to remove up to 10 percent of the sea lions, as the protected animals increasingly threaten the region’s declining salmon and steelhead. Sea lions, while not listed as threatened or endangered, are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, limiting options for their removal. They began appearing in the Columbia River seasonally in the 1980s, and by 2006, about 2,200 were living in the Columbia, with some making their way hundreds of miles upriver to key salmon and steelhead spawning areas.

Now, sea lions are eating so many young salmon that in locations like Willamette Falls, at least a quarter of the winter steelhead run there was consumed in 2017, and the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife has estimated that there’s a 90 percent chance that at least one of the three runs there will go extinct.

“Salmon consumption at the Bonneville Dam is five times what it was five years ago,” Risch said, “and threatened and endangered species of salmon are being damaged by sea lions in the Columbia River.” In 2016, 9,525 spring chinook salmon were eaten by sea lions at the Bonneville Dam, up from 1,750 in 2012.

Cantwell said, “Pacific salmon are central to our culture, our livelihoods, and our economy in the Pacific Northwest. Taxpayers throughout Washington, Idaho and Oregon have made significant investments in Pacific salmon restoration, and we must continue to support science-based management methods to ensure future generations have access to wild Pacific Northwest salmon. I want to thank my colleague Sen. Risch for working with me on this bipartisan, science-based solution that will help protect salmon for future generations.

The two senators say sea lion populations have increased by more than 10 times over the past 50 years, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act is a conservation success — but they’re now at or near the biological carrying capacity of their habitat. Unlike the sea lions, most salmon and steelhead populations in the lower Columbia are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Related Pages:
U.S. House Passes Herrera Beutler Bill Authorizing Lethal Sea Lion Removal by Zack Hale, The Daily News, 6/27/18
Bill to Expedite Sea Lion Removal Clears House Natural Resources Committee by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin, 8/1/17
Congress Seeks to Weaken the Marine Mammal Protection Act by Maya L. Kapoor, High Country News, 7/28/17
House Natural Resources Committee Passes Bill to Expedite Sea Lion Removal by CBB Staff, Chinook Observer, 10/14/16
Predatory Sea Lions Are Detrimental to Columbia River Fish Runs by Gerry Lewis & Paul Ward, NW Fishletter, 5/1/17
Bill Would Streamline Process to Kill Sea Lions Near Bonneville Dam by Brian Brennan, KGW8, 4/4/18


Betsy Russell is the Boise Bureau Chief and covers Boise and Idaho Capitol news.
Risch, Cantwell Introduce Bill to Reduce Sea Lions in Columbia, to Save Salmon, Steelhead
Idaho Press, June 24, 2018

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