SPOKANE, Wash. — Some Northwest Indian tribes would be allowed to kill a limited number of sea lions that prey on endangered salmon in the Columbia River under a bill introduced in Congress.
The bipartisan bill was introduced last weekend by U.S. House members Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Washington Republican, and Kurt Schrader, an Oregon Democrat.
If passed, the bill would allow the Warm Springs, Umatilla, Yakama, and Nez Perce tribes to kill some sea lions that are decimating endangered salmon runs as they return from the ocean to inland spawning grounds. Currently only the states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho can kill sea lions.
Last year, approximately 190 sea lions killed over 9,500 adult spring chinook within sight of Bonneville Dam, according to the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission in Portland.
That represented a 5.8 percent loss of the 2016 spring chinook run in just a quarter mile from Bonneville Dam, the commission said. The federal government estimated that up to 45 percent of the 2014 spring chinook run was lost to sea lions between the Columbia River estuary and Bonneville Dam.
"The spring chinook loss, coupled with the growing sea lion population, has placed us in an emergency situation," said Leland Bill, chairman of the commission.
Sea lion populations have surged since passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972. There were about 30,000 California sea lions then, and over 300,000 now.
A large number of the sea lions travel up the Columbia River to feast on migrating salmon, which are protected by the Endangered Species Act.
The Humane Society of the United States, which has filed lawsuits in the past in a failed attempt to stop the hunts, did not immediately return a message from the Associated Press.
The three states have had federal authorization since 2008 to catch and euthanize California sea lions preying on salmon.
The sea lions hunt salmon as they go over the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River between Washington and Oregon.
Since lethal removal efforts began in 2008, a total of 166 have been removed from the river.
That's far fewer than were authorized by the government for removal, Hudson said.
The Yakama Nation applauded the bill.
"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 press release. "This is a learned behavior.”