SALEM, Ore.—The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration today gave Oregon and Washington Departments of Fish and Wildlife and Idaho Fish and Game federal authority to remove – through lethal or non-lethal means – California sea lions preying on salmon and steelhead listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Fish and wildlife agencies from Washington, Oregon and Idaho jointly requested that authority in 2006 under provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. NOAA-Fisheries approved that request today on the recommendation of an 18-member federal task force convened last year to review it.
“This federal authorization gives us an additional tool to protect threatened and endangered wild salmon and steelhead runs,” said Robin Brown, ODFW, Program Leader for Marine Mammal Research” “However, we will first review the Letter of Authorization given to the states today by NOAA Fisheries and over the next week we will finalize our plans based on the details of the authorization.”
Federal authorization to remove a California sea lion from the waters below Bonneville Dam carries a number of conditions:
- The problem animal must be identifiable through markings;
- Documentation must show that it has repeatedly fed on salmon and steelhead below the dam; and
- Attempts must first be made to deter predation through non-lethal hazing.
The federal authorization also allows for animals to be transferred to zoos and aquariums. “Our initial focus will be to place as many animals as possible,” said Brown.
So far, several zoological facilities contacted by NOAA-Fisheries nationwide have tentatively agreed to accept about a dozen Columbia River sea lions, although arrangements have not been confirmed. NOAA-Fisheries must approve such transfers.
For the past three years, hazing crews from ODFW, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission have used flares, rubber bullets and other non-lethal measures in an effort to prevent California sea lions from feeding on ESA-listed fish. Despite those efforts, the Corps has documented an increasing rate of predation by sea lions immediately below Bonneville Dam, 145 miles up the Columbia River.
For the past four years, up to 100 individual California sea lions have been observed feeding below the dam, most during the peak months of April and May. An adult California sea lion typically eats 5 to 7 salmon a day. Last spring, sea lions consumed nearly 4,000 fish, representing 4.2 percent of the run. In 2002, the Corps watched 31 individual sea lions consume 1,010 salmon and steelhead below the dam, accounting for 0.4 percent of the upriver run.
“This is a sensitive situation; we are trying to restore the balance between a protected species and one that is endangered and threatened,” said Brown. “However, we have to address this issue, because we have a responsibility to protect threatened salmon and steelhead from increasing predation.”
Oregon will not move forward on the federal authorization until the State of Washington completes a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) environmental review. The review is required by Washington State law and takes approximately two weeks—including a public comment period.
NOAA-Fisheries solicited public comments on the states’ request for 30 days as part of an environmental assessment earlier this year.
Sea Lion Predation Background Information:
ODFW appreciates today’s decision by NOAA-Fisheries granting Oregon, Washington, and Idaho authority for limited lethal removal of problem California sea lions. This federal authorization gives us an additional tool to protect threatened and endangered wild salmon and steelhead runs. Initially, the states’ will focus on relocating as many sea lions as possible at qualified zoos and aquariums.
- The federal authorization granted by NOAA-Fisheries provides the states with an additional tool in the ongoing effort to protect wild salmon and steelhead runs listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.
- Oregon will not move forward on the federal authorization until the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) completes a federal environmental review under provisions of the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). The review is required by Washington State law and takes approximately two weeks—including a public comment period—to complete.
- Under the removal authority, the state’s focus will be to relocate as many sea lions as possible at qualified zoos and aquariums. So far, zoological facilities contacted by NOAA-Fisheries nationwide have tentatively agreed to accept about a dozen Columbia River sea lions. NOAA must approve facilities as appropriate to house sea lions before the animals can be transported.
- Sea lion predation on threatened salmon and steelhead stocks has increased significantly since 2001, despite three years of non-lethal hazing efforts below Bonneville Dam.
- With federal authorization, lethal removal is now an option that the states can use in the effort to deter predation on salmon and steelhead listed for protection under the federal ESA. It is possible, however, that no sea lions will be removed through lethal means this year.
- Even with the federal authorization, restoring the balance between sea lions and salmonids below Bonneville Dam will require a long-term commitment from ODFW, WDFW, and ACOE. The problem has been growing since 2001, and we don’t expect to correct it in a single year.
- Oregon and Washington will continue to pursue non-lethal methods—including hazing—to deter predation by sea lions.
- An Animal Care Committee, consisting of experienced veterinarians and marine mammal biologists, will review and oversee all actions related to handling captured sea lions.
NOAA - Fisheries Press Release
NOAA - Letter of Authorization to Oregon