INTRODUCTION OF THE ENDANGERED SALMON PREDATION PREVENTION ACT -- (Extensions of Remarks - September 29, 2006)
SPEECH OF HON. DOC HASTINGS OF WASHINGTON
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 2006
* Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. Mr. Speaker, today I am introducing legislation that provides an expedited process for the States of Washington and Oregon and the four Columbia River treaty tribes to manage aggressive California sea lion predation of endangered salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River. This bill is the result of months of collaboration with my colleague from Washington, Mr. BAIRD, and I thank him and his staff for their diligent efforts in working with me to develop this legislation.
* The Columbia River is the heart of our region, and runs right through my district in Central Washington state. This river is critical for power production, irrigation, transportation, recreation, and fish and wildlife habitat. This river is renowned for its salmon, which are an important part of the regional economy and way of life, and of great cultural significance to the Native American people of the Pacific Northwest. Unfortunately, at this time, we have a number of salmon and steelhead runs that are listed as threatened and endangered under the Endangered Species Act in our region. Many of these are in the Columbia River and its tributaries.
* Our region is working diligently to restore healthy salmon runs, and we have made great progress over the last 10 years. We have invested hundreds of millions of dollars each year in direct spending in support of salmon recovery. I have long argued that we must take a balanced approach to salmon recovery that recognizes the many factors that influence their life cycle. This includes the so-called ``four Hs''--hydropower, hatcheries, harvest, and habitat--as well as things like ocean conditions and the high level of predation by certain birds and marine mammals. This legislation is about addressing the latter problem.
* We have witnessed dramatic increases in the number of California sea lions over the past few decades. In fact, their numbers have grown six-fold to nearly 300,000 coast wide. While these animals have always been present in and around the Columbia River, we have seen them appear in growing numbers in recent years--especially during the peak of the spring salmon run. A few years ago, just a few sea lions were witnessed in the tailrace below Bonneville dam, where the salmon tend to gather before entering the fish ladders. Now, it is becoming the norm to see nearly 100 of them. Recent estimates by the Army Corps of Engineers indicate that California sea lions are responsible for eating more than three percent of the run as observed at Bonneville dam. This does not include the numbers of salmon eaten elsewhere in the lower Columbia River by sea lions.
* Despite efforts by federal, state, and tribal officials to discourage the sea lion predation through aggressive nonlethal hazing, the sea lions appear to becoming more brazen with each passing year. It is clear that lethal removal of some of the worst actors is necessary to deter this sea lion behavior and to help recoup more of our substantial investment in salmon recovery.
* Similar conflicts between protected marine mammals and ESA-listed fish have occurred in the Northwest before. In fact, the Marine Mammal Protection Act was amended in 1994 to address the problem of California sea lions eating returning winter steelhead at the Ballard Locks in Seattle. The process established by that amendment allows states to apply to the Commerce Department for legal authority to remove marine mammals under certain conditions. However, in practice, the application process takes 3 to 5 years to come to a conclusion.
* The Endangered Salmon Predation Prevention Act, which I am introducing today, would provide expedited authority for states and tribes to manage the sea lion problem while the states concurrently apply for longer-term authority through the established process. There are numerous protections in this proposal to ensure that only a limited number of sea lions are removed. In addition, the permit holders would have to determine that the sea lion in question has preyed upon salmon stocks and has not been responsive to nonlethal hazing methods. The proposal calls upon the Commerce Secretary to report to Congress on the need for amendments to the Marine Mammal Protection Act to address conflicts between protected marine mammals and fish species that are listed under the Endangered Species Act.
* In addition to Mr. Baird, I am pleased to be joined today upon introduction by Mr. Walden and Mr. Dicks. This proposal is a measured, common-sense response to the very real problem of increasing California sea lion predation of threatened and endangered salmon, and I hope my colleagues will allow us the opportunity to move this legislation expeditiously before the end of the 109th Congress.