Yakamas Applaud Bill that Would Allow
by Phil Ferolito
After more than a decade of watching a growing number of sea lions in the Columbia River feasting on salmon and steelhead, the Yakama Nation is encouraged about a federal bill that would allow tribes to trap or kill the predatory mammal.
Only the states of Washington and Oregon now have limited authority to remove the growing number of California sea lions in the river. But the bill introduced by Reps. Jamie Herrera Beutler, a Republican from Washington, and Democrat Kurt Schrader of Oregon would extend that authority to the four Columbia River tribes -- the Yakama, Nez Perce, Umatilla and Warm Springs.
Yakama leaders issued a statement applauding the bill and noting its bipartisan support.
"Twenty years ago we did not have a problem with large numbers of sea lions swimming 145 miles up the Columbia to Bonneville Dam to gorge themselves on salmon who have no choice but to use the fish ladders to get to their historic spawning grounds," the tribe said in a statement. "This is a learned behavior by a limited number of sea lions that they have taught to others."
Columbia River tribes hold traditional fishing rights protected by federal treaties, and their fishermen have long complained about the effect sea lions are having on fish runs.
The bill, called the Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act, would also eliminate a provision requiring authorities to identify and document sea lions who have repeatedly feasted on fish before removing them.
California sea lions are protected under the 1972 National Marine Mammal Protection Act. Since passage of the act, the California seal lion population has grown from about 30,000 to more than 300,000.
The National Marine Fisheries Service recently concluded a five-year study showing that the current removal program that has been in effect since 2011 has been insufficient to protect endangered salmon.
Last year, the approximately 190 seal lions that migrated to the river killed more than 9,500 adult spring chinook near the Bonneville Dam alone, a 5.8 percent loss of the run, according to the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which coordinates tribal fisheries among the river tribes.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that up to 45 percent of the 2014 spring chinook run was potentially lost to sea lions within the 145 river miles between the river's mouth to Bonneville Dam.
Early Action Key to Reducing Sea Lion Impacts on Salmon by Staff, Science Daily, 12/16/16
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