Portland, Oregon- The Pacific Northwest needs more efficient and effective management tools to address the growing issue of sea lion predation on the Columbia River’s at-risk salmon populations. That was the message delivered earlier today by Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC) Chairman Leland Bill when he testified in support of H.R. 2083, the Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act. Invited to testify by committee Chairman Lamborn, today’s hearing was before the Water, Power and Oceans, a subcommittee to the House Natural Resource Committee.
Introduced by Rep. Jaime Herrera-Beutler (R-WA) and co-sponsored by Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR), Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA), and Rep. Don Young (R-AK), H.R. 2083 would extend pinniped removal authority to CRITFC and the four sovereign tribes that they represent (the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Yakama and Warm Springs tribes) who have co-management authority on the Columbia River. In addition to removal authority, the legislation implements area-based management rather than individual sea lion management and allows fishery management agencies to remove California sea lions upstream of river mile 120 or in any Columbia River tributary. This streamlined process would allow the region to effectively manage sea lion predation on endangered salmon populations.
Wy-Kan-Ush-Mi Wa-Kish-Wit, the four tribes’ comprehensive anadromous fish management plan, addresses the challenges facing Columbia River salmon throughout their entire life cycle including marine mammal predation. The effects of land and water management, harvest, hydroelectric passage, hatcheries and predation must be considered in a holistic manner. As explained by the Commission’s Chairman, “the Creator placed an obligation on the Indian people to speak for the salmon. Our testimony and management actions help fulfill this commitment.”
Over the past 15 years, sea lion populations throughout the 145 river miles between the estuary and Bonneville Dam have significantly increased. The subsequent spike in predation on endangered salmon has resulted in a significant loss of adult salmon. NOAA Fisheries found that 45 percent of the 2014 spring chinook run was potentially lost to sea lions. Last year, approximately 190 sea lions killed over 9,500 adult spring chinook within a quarter mile of Bonneville Dam – a 5.8 percent loss of the 2016 spring chinook return.
A limited sea lion removal program has been in effect at Bonneville Dam since 2011. However, a cumbersome process and litigation has hampered the program’s success and the current program has not reduced sea lion predation below Bonneville Dam.
Sea lion populations have seen resurgence under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. In 1972 when the Act was passed, the California sea lion population hovered around 30,000 animals. Today, there are over 325,000 animals along the West Coast and the species has fully recovered.
“The actions proposed under H.R. 2083 are guided by 10 years of data,” explained Chairman Bill. “This data shows a growing predation problem and our on-the-river experience implementing Section 120 removal permits has taught us that the current approach is not enough. I’m here to tell you that more needs to be done.”