Bipartisan legislation to protect endangered salmon and steelhead from sea lion predation has been passed by the U.S. Senate.
“For too long, predatory sea lions have been taking an unhealthy chomp out of Oregon’s salmon and steelhead stocks,” said Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR). “This bill applies a reasoned, collaborative approach to address, in a permanent manner, sea lion predation on endangered salmon and steelhead,” said Wyden. “This bill took a long time to negotiate. There were a lot of interests with stakes in this process, including multiple states and many tribal nations. This bipartisan compromise shows that Congress can still function, in a bipartisan way.”
The entire Northwest Senate delegation, including U.S. Senators Wyden, Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) have cosponsored S.3119, the Endangered Salmon Predation Prevention Act, emphasizing how critical this legislation is to the existence of salmon and steelhead in the interconnected Northwest waterways. The House is expected to consider the bill before the end of the year.
“Salmon are critical to Oregon’s economy, culture and heritage, and it’s clear that sea lions are creating a serious threat to the very survival of endangered salmon,” Merkley said. “I’m glad we could find a bipartisan path forward to address this problem in a targeted way that enables equitable tribal management and does not materially impact sea lion populations.”
“Salmon are a big part of the Pacific Northwest way of life, but without action, we could see runs continue to decline to a point of no return,” Murray said.
A recent study by Oregon State University found that increasing predation from sea lions has decreased the fishery harvest of adult Chinook salmon in the Pacific Northwest. According to the study, if sea lions continue their current consumption habits there is an 89 percent chance that a population of wild steelhead could go extinct. There are Endangered Species Act (ESA) threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead being significantly harmed by the increasing sea lion population.
Sea lion populations have increased significantly along the West Coast over the past 40 years to roughly 300,000 today.
These sea lions have entered areas they had never been before, including areas around Bonneville Dam and Willamette Falls in Oregon where fish are congregated on their run upriver to spawn.
This predation of ESA-listed fish is negating the large investments being spent on salmon recovery associated with habitat, harvest, and hatcheries, according to the legislation.
If enacted, this bill would amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 to provide for better management of these invasive, non-listed sea lions.
The declining salmon populations have also impacted other threatened animals in the Pacific Northwest. Recently, a Washington state task force on southern resident orcas recommended authorizing the removal of seals in the Columbia River to improve orca survival.