Oregon Seeking Expanded Sea Lion Controls Following
by Bill Monroe
Having fended off the threat of extinction of wild winter steelhead over Willamette Falls, Oregon biologists are now joining counterparts in Washington, Idaho and Native American tribes to expand that success.
Tuesday is the deadline set by the National Marine Fisheries Service for comments on a state and tribal proposal to reduce protections for both California and Steller sea lions in the Columbia river and its tributaries.
Changes in federal rules to streamline the control of sea lions have been approved by congress, but the states and tribes must still apply for authorization.
Current permits only allow the capture and killing of specific California sea lions at either Willamette Falls or Bonneville Dam.
The new proposal calls for the lethal take and euthanization of both California and Steller sea lions from anywhere in the Columbia River between the Interstate 205 bridge upriver to McNary Dam and from any lower Columbia tributaries such as the Willamette, Cowlitz and Lewis rivers. While there are no known sea lions upriver from The Dalles Dam (and only rumors of one between there and Bonneville), the area brings key fishing areas into the fold for six Native American tribes.
Animals won't have to be marked or caught in the act of eating sturgeon or endangered and threatened salmon or steelhead. Their presence presumes they're eating protected fish.
The plan won’t allow marine mammals taking in the Columbia estuary because diets there include fish other than salmon and steelhead.
This past season, Oregon captured and euthanized 33 California sea lions at Willamette Falls and another 19 at Bonneville.
The effort at Willamette Falls in 2019 was so successful, the area has been sea-lion free this fall for the first time in several years -- despite a relatively good showing of more than 6,000 coho salmon thus far. Only a few Steller sea lions are at Bonneville, but no Californias.
Shaun Clements, a senior policy analyst with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, is especially encouraged by the reduction of predation on wild winter steelhead, estimated to have declined from a fifth to a quarter of the entire run in 2017 and 2018 to just 8 percent this past year.
The rate on spring chinook dropped from 9 percent to 4 percent.
And that, Clements said, has nearly eliminated biologists' fears of winter steelhead extinction above the falls, once estimated at 90 percent probable without sea lion control.
"It drops significantly," Clements said. "Probably to less than 10 percent."
Besides streamlining the process to remove animals, the new permit would bring Steller sea lions under more control. Stellers are considered a major threat to large spawning sturgeon, especially concerning in spawning zones below Bonneville Dam and Willamette Falls. In recent years, they’ve also turned more of their attention to salmon and steelhead.
Trapping and transporting large Steller sea lions, which range from one to three times the size of a large California, will be a challenge biologists are still discussing, Clements said.
Most euthanized sea lions have been turned over to rendering plants, he said.
Comments so far have been largely -- but not all -- supportive. By comparison, more than 900 comments were submitted for Oregon’s Willamette falls permit and approximately 90% were in support.
Send comments to: www.regulations.gov/docket?D=NOAA-NMFS-2019-0073, or mail them to the National Marine Fisheries Service, ATTN: Protected Resources Division, NOAA-NMFS-2019-0073; 1201 NE Lloyd Blvd., Suite 1100; Portland, Ore., 97232.
Watch New Plan Targets Salmon-Eating Sea Lions in Columbia River by Associated Press, Q13 Fox, 8/30/19
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