Sea Lion Removal has made Great Strides in Saving Salmon
A growing concern since the late 1990's has been Sea lion predation of steelhead, salmon and other fish in the Columbia Basin. Most concerning is the area below Bonneville Dam, which creates an ideal opportunity for the animals to have a bite to eat.
It is with this in mind that a pinniped (the seal family) management team, which includes the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission was formed to handle the sea lion problem.
Sea lions are currently safeguarded under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. However, congress also established a process for the lethal take of individually identifiable sea lions harming the recovery of salmon fishery stocks. The law was amended in 2018 to allow for local management instead of individual sea lion-based management.
Then in 2020, congress passed a law that allowed government agencies to utilize lethal removal of sea lions in select locations of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers. The new law allows the states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, as well as the Nez Perce Tribe, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, and more to apply for a permit to remove sea lions in the Columbia River and select tributaries.
Over 375 sea lions have been removed at various locations, saving tens of thousands of salmon and other fish.
There was an estimated 89% chance of extinction for winter steelhead in 2017 at Willamette Falls, as sea lions consumed about 25 percent of some runs. However, following two seasons of sea lion removals, the steelhead population rebounded. The estimated extinction risk dropped to 11 percent.