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Early hazing will help protect white sturgeon



December 4 , 2007


Rick Hargrave, ODFW (503) 947-6020
Charlie Corrarino, ODFW (503) 947-6213
ODFW Internet:
ODFW Fax: (503) 947-6009

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
Sandra Jonker (360) 906-6722

SALEM, Ore.— For the third straight year, crews from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will begin non-lethal hazing actions on the Columbia River to deter sea lions from feeding on white sturgeon.

Hazing with acoustic and percussive devices, flares, and rubber bullets is scheduled to begin in mid-December from Bonneville Dam downstream approximately six miles to Navigation Marker 85, according to wildlife managers in both states.

Those methods have generally been effective in deterring predation by Steller sea lions, which account for most sturgeon lost to predation below the dam, said Charlie Corrarino, ODFW Conservation and Recovery Program manager.

“White sturgeon do not reach maturity until they are 12 to 20 years old, and Steller sea lions tend to target the larger and older sturgeon,” Corrarino said. “We need to protect these fish because they are broodstock for future generations of sturgeon.”

Steller sea lions ate more than 350 white sturgeon near Bonneville Dam last winter, but took only 19 after hazing began in March, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Fifty-five of the sturgeon taken last year were over five feet long, some carrying millions of eggs.

“We plan to start hazing a few weeks earlier this year,” said Sandra Jonker, WDFW region wildlife manager, noting that Steller sea lions have been observed near Bonneville Dam since early October.

Hazing by boat-based crews from ODFW and WDFW is scheduled at least four days per week during daylight hours in the area from Bonneville Dam six miles downstream to Navigation Marker 85. USDA Wildlife Services, under contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will also begin hazing sea lions from the face of the dam on a similar schedule.

While Steller sea lions have generally responded to non-lethal hazing, that has not been the case with California sea lions, which prey primarily on salmon and steelhead below the dam, Jonker said. Despite hazing efforts, observations by the Corps of Engineers indicate that both the number the number of California sea lions and their rate of predation on salmon and steelhead have increased in recent years, she said.

Separate from their hazing efforts, fishery managers from Washington, Oregon and Idaho are seeking federal approval to use lethal means to remove individual California sea lions below Bonneville Dam that prey on chinook salmon and steelhead listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The states’ application, submitted last year under Section 120 of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, would not apply to Steller sea lions, which are themselves listed as threatened under the ESA.

Last month, an 18-member task force appointed to review the states’ application recommended that NOAA-Fisheries approve the states’ request, concluding that predation by California sea lions has a “significant negative impact” on ESA-listed salmon and steelhead stocks in the Columbia River and Snake River basins.

NOAA-Fisheries is expected to conduct an environmental assessment on the states’ application, and expects to make a final decision on the states’ request by next March, at the start of the spring salmon migration past Bonneville Dam.



Nuisance seal and sea lion control efforts set to begin on the Rogue River
Date: June 27, 2006

Port of Gold Beach – Pete Dale (541) 247-6269
Curry Sportfishing Association – Mark Lottis (541) 247-2733
NOAA Fisheries – Garth Griffin (503) 231-2005
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife – Todd Confer (541) 247-7605

GOLD BEACH – Officials today announced a plan to use non-lethal methods to control nuisance seals and sea lions on the Rogue River estuary beginning July 1.

The plan was created by the Curry Sportfishing Association (CSA) and Port of Gold Beach (Port) after numerous complaints from Gold Beach residents and visitors experiencing damage to their local salmon fishery and eonomy due to the nuisance mammals.

“Seals and sea lions are actively taking anglers’ catches, damaging their gear, and causing property damage to boats, docks and marinas,” said Mark Lottis of CSA. “The community of Gold Beach has seen a steady increase over the last few years in the number of nuisance seals and sea lions.”

NOAA Fisheries and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) provided plan guidance and some funding for the plan’s implementation and will closely monitor and evaluate control efforts.

The plan calls for controlling nuisance California sea lions, Eastern stock of Steller sea lions and Pacific harbor seals in the estuary by using three methods: modifying moorage and dock structures to eliminate resting areas, reducing a food source by ending the practice of dumping fish carcasses into the estuary, and using non-lethal hazing methods such as high pressure water hoses and wildlife control firecrackers to displace the mammals.

All seals and sea lions are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Eastern stock of Steller sea lions is listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The plan was crafted in alignment with federal regulations and balances controlling these nuisance mammals with maintaining a viable population. Under the laws, the Port has authority to use non-lethal methods to manage nuisance seals and sea lions.

“Several fishing guides reported that clients lost nearly half of their catch during the 2005 summer fishery and many small local businesses dependent on the salmon fishery are at risk,” said Pete Dale, Port General Manager “We’ve heard reports of tourists not coming to fish Gold Beach anymore because their gear is being damaged and catch stolen by the nuisance mammals.”

A healthy population of California sea lions, Steller sea lions and Pacific harbor seals exist year-round in the Rogue River estuary, with California sea lions returning to breeding grounds in southern California from late June through early August.

By law anglers can only use non-lethal deterrents on California sea lions and Pacific seals only while actively fishing with gear in the water. Anglers must be able to differentiate between seal and sea lion species and should consult the NOAA website at

Oregon and Washington to expand sea lion control efforts in the Columbia River
Date: March 17, 2006

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
Contact: Brad Wurfel (503) 947-6020

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
Contact: Guy Norman, 360-561-1398

The Oregon and Washington fish and wildlife departments are stepping up sea lion deterrence efforts in the Columbia River this year, and are seeking federal authority that would allow removal of selected problem animals in future years if expanded hazing is unsuccessful.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission agreed to seek federal authority to expand future sea lion management options during a public meeting today in Newport, and the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission agreed to the same course after a discussion in its February public meeting.

Up to 1,000 sea lions flocked to the Columbia River last year, devouring spring chinook salmon and making their way up the fish ladder at Bonneville Dam, despite attempts to drive them off with fireworks and acoustic devices. This year, sea lions also have been observed killing adult female sturgeon, and have entered Columbia River tributaries, such as the Lewis River , where they are feeding on steelhead.

With this year’s upriver spring chinook salmon run predicted at only 88,000 fish, biologists estimate sea lions could kill as much as 10 percent of the run. As spring chinook salmon begin to make their way up the Columbia River, biologists are growing more concerned about the sea lions’ impact on the river’s fish populations, several of which are listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.

“The states will be using every hazing method available to us under federal law, including acoustic and percussive devices, flares, and rubber bullets,” said Steve Williams, acting administrator of the Fish Division for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Williams said the hazing campaign will broaden last year’s efforts to keep sea lions from preying on salmon and other fish species near Bonneville Dam. Like last year, state fish and wildlife agencies will conduct the hazing in cooperation with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, operators of the dam.

The new hazing activities are scheduled to begin April 1 from Bonneville Dam downstream approximately 12 miles to Marker 85. The directors of the two state agencies informed NMFS of the expanded hazing plans in a March 15 letter.

Meanwhile, Washington and Oregon fish and wildlife agencies will seek federal authority and funding to remove a select number of problem sea lions from the river if hazing is determined to be unsuccessful.

Removing sea lions – which could include both lethal and non-lethal methods – must be approved by the NMFS, the federal agency that manages sea lions under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. If the states’ request is approved, removal of problem sea lions is not expected to begin until after this year’s hazing activities have been completed and assessed.

During its regular monthly commission meeting today in Newport, Oregon’s Fish and Wildlife Commission directed agency staff to begin the process of applying for authority under Section 120 of the act, which would allow lethal removal of specific nuisance animals. Oregon Commissioners cautioned members of the public in attendance that the move toward Section 120 authority will not provide immediate relief.

“We urge people looking for a ‘quick fix’ to this problem to be realistic,” said Commission Chair Marla Rae. “This process is neither quick, nor a good permanent fix. Resolving the sea lion issue and protecting Oregon’s fish stocks will require an act of Congress, not an act of this Commission. However, we realize this is a serious problem, and seeking federal authority to manage it is an important step in the right direction.”

The Oregon Commission also directed agency leaders to convene a workgroup with constituents, stakeholders and neighboring states to begin exploring appropriate possible venues to propose federal legislative changes.

Jeff Koenings, director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said he is encouraged that state and federal agencies are in agreement on the need to address the problem of sea lion predation through cooperative management strategies.

“Sea lion predation in the Columbia River is clearly a persistent problem that appears to be getting worse, and we need to explore every option available to resolve it,” Koenings said. “We’re concerned about balance—in the Columbia River , an overly robust population of California sea lions is preying on weak populations of wild salmon and steelhead. We need to pursue an active management approach that restores balance to the river system.”

The hazing actions set to begin next month will expand on last year’s efforts, which focused on the area of river immediately below the Bonneville Dam fish ladders. In that first experiment, NMFS, the Corps, and the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife conducted a two-day hazing and assessment effort using both percussive and acoustic devices. Results showed sea lions were driven off temporarily, but returned within a day.

Since that time the Corps has installed grates in front of the fish ladders and has placed acoustic devices in the ladders designed to deter sea lions from entering. However, at least one sea lion made its way through the grates and entered the fish ladders this spring.

As sea lions have rebounded in recent years, their impact on salmon and sturgeon populations also has increased. An adult sea lion typically eats five to seven salmon a day. Last year 500-1,000 sea lions were estimated to be hunting in the Columbia River , and at least as many are expected to enter the river this year seeking food.

Some 100 sea lions at Bonneville Dam last year were estimated to have eaten approximately 3-4 percent of the 106,000 spring chinook salmon run passing the dam, according to Corps biologists. State biologists said additional salmon were consumed downstream in the river.

While hazing will be aimed at stopping sea lions from killing salmon, other fish in the river, including sturgeon, are expected to benefit, an outcome that pleases fish biologists concerned about the increasing number of reports of sea lions seen eating sturgeon.

“The Columbia River supports the largest healthy white sturgeon population in the world,” said Williams, “and sea lions have the potential to severely deplete mature female sturgeon, which are their preferred prey. Those sturgeon represent the future of the species.”

In addition to the biological impacts caused by sea lion predation, reduced salmon and sturgeon populations also could have a negative effect on the local economy.

“Sport and commercial fisheries in the Columbia River are fundamental to the regional economy and to the social traditions of the Pacific Northwest ,” said Roy Elicker , interim director of ODFW. “Sea lion predation on salmon and sturgeon, if left unchecked, has the potential to rise to a level that causes economic harm to individuals and businesses that depend on Columbia River fisheries.”



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