New Round in Battle with Sea Lions

With predatory sea lions taking a larger bite than ever out of Northwest ratepayers’ wallets, some officials say it is time to capture and kill more of the worst offenders.

There is a move to step up the battle against predatory sea lions in the Northwest that are eating record numbers of fish. (Photo By: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

There is a move to step up the battle against predatory sea lions in the Northwest that are eating record numbers of fish. (Photo By: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is seeking a federal permit to cull sea lions from Willamette Falls, south of Portland.

That's in addition to an existing authorization that allows wildlife managers to trap and kill 92 sea lions annually from Bonneville Dam.

Non-lethal hazing around Willamette Falls, such as launching pyrotechnics to scare sea lions, hasn't worked. Shaun Clements, senior policy adviser in the agency's fish division, said California sea lions ate about a quarter of wild winter steelhead that passed through the falls this year.

"We're looking at some populations having less than 100 individuals, which makes them extremely vulnerable to extinction," he said.

Some of those sea lions have meandered south from Bonneville Dam, where game officials trapped and euthanized 24 California sea lions this year.

The Oregon initiative came amid reports that sea lions might have eaten a large portion of a weaker-than-expected chinook salmon run at Bonneville Dam this year. The Army Corps of Engineers estimated that more than 80 percent of the adult steelhead and salmon killed at Bonneville Dam might have been protected species.

"The spring chinook loss, coupled with the growing sea lion population, has placed us in an emergency situation," said Leland Bill, chairman of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

The issue is a huge one for Northwest utilities, because Bonneville Power Administration, which markets power from the dam to co-ops, spent $621 million last year on wildlife protection. That's about 25 percent of its wholesale power costs.

On Capitol Hill, the House Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans is weighing legislation that also would expand the authorization to remove nettlesome sea lions.

It heard testimony in June on H.R.2083, the Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act, introduced by Reps. Jamie Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore.

The bill would give more flexibility to states and tribal authorities in securing permits to remove up to 100 sea lions annually, while requiring natural resources training for permit holders.

"Lethal removal of animals is never an easy choice and should always be a last resort. But in the case of sea lions, it's necessary—if the Northwest is serious about improving the future of salmon runs," said Terry Flores, executive director of Northwest RiverPartners, a regional alliance that includes more than 30 co-ops. 

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