States authorised to remove sea lions

18 May 2011
California sea lions consuming salmon just below the Columbia River’s Bonneville Dam. Credit: With permission from the US Corps of Engineers

California sea lions consuming salmon just below the Columbia River’s Bonneville Dam. Credit: With permission from the US Corps of Engineers

NOAA has authorised Washington and Oregon to lethally remove sea lions congregating below the Columbia River’s Bonneville Dam to eat thousands of adult salmon and steelhead swimming upstream to spawn.

NOAA has authorised Washington and Oregon to lethally remove sea lions congregating below the Columbia River’s Bonneville Dam to eat thousands of adult salmon and steelhead swimming upstream to spawn.

Some of the salmon and steelhead are listed as threatened or endangered.

“This is not an easy decision for our agency to make, but a thorough analysis shows that a small number of California sea lions preying on salmon and steelhead are having a significant effect on the ability of the fish stocks to recover,” said William W. Stelle Jr., Northwest regional administrator for NOAA’s Fisheries Service. “Today’s authorisation allows state fisheries and natural resource agencies to carefully remove California sea lions to reduce their effect on vulnerable fish species.”

California sea lions are protected by federal law, but there are provisions in the Marine Mammal Protection Act that allow this authorisation. The California sea lion population on the West Coast is considered healthy and stable, and estimated to be a robust 238,000.

Columbia Basin Chinook salmon and steelhead, on the other hand, have been listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act since the early 1990s, when their populations were perilously low. In recent years, adults have been returning in better numbers, thanks in part to favourable ocean conditions and improvements to habitat and to the operations of the hydropower dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

The agency said for salmon to recover it was crucial to make advances - even incremental ones - across the broadest possible range of activities that affect their survival.

This decision by NOAA gives the states permission under the Marine Mammal Protection Act to remove, lethally if necessary, individually identifiable California sea lions that have been observed eating salmon or steelhead in the area immediately below Bonneville Dam. The authorisation covers removal of up to 85 California sea lions annually, although the agency said it was unlikely that large a number would be taken each year.

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