House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (WA-04) today reintroduced bipartisan legislation aimed at protecting endangered Columbia River salmon and other fish species from predation by California and steller sea lions. H.R. 1308, the Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act would allow states and tribes to obtain permits for lethal removal of the most aggressive sea lions in order to deter predation and help protect endangered salmon as they return to spawn. Chairman Hastings is joined by bill cosponsors Reps. Greg Walden (OR-02), Michael K. Simpson (ID-02), Kurt Schrader (OR-05), and Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA-03).
"For years now, Northwest ratepayers have paid hundreds of millions of dollars every year on measures to protect endangered salmon migrating through our Columbia River dams, only to see a growing number fall prey to aggressive sea lions that camp out at the base of the Bonneville Dam and other places," said Hastings. "I am pleased to once again introduce this bipartisan legislation to ensure that, despite endless litigation, federal and Northwest state agencies will be permitted to work with local tribes using all available methods, including lethal removal of the most aggressive of these predators, to protect this important resource."
In recent years sea lions have been entering the lower 205 miles of the Columbia River and around Bonneville Dam and feasting on fish. According to previous state court filings, during winter and spring months, as many as 1,000 California Sea Lions can be in the lower Columbia River, each of which consumes fifteen to thirty pounds of fish per day. Conservative estimates show that sea lions during April and May, California Sea Lions eat 12,000 to 20,000 fish throughout the Columbia River and its tributaries, which comprise a significant percentage of the overall salmon runs.
As near-record runs of salmon are returning to the Columbia River to spawn, the sea lion populations have substantially increased and are a growing threat to endangered salmon runs and other fish species. Despite dramatic population increases in recent decades, sea lions enjoy strong federal protection making it virtually impossible to control them. Scientific task forces have been convened for several years and have concluded that non-lethal removal have not been effective.
Hastings' bill, which is identical to legislation he introduced last Congress that passed the House of Representatives in June 2012 by a bipartisan vote of 232 to 188, allows for the issuance of state and tribal permits to lethally remove increasing predatory, sea lions that consume tens of thousands of endangered salmon and other fish species in the Columbia River and their tributaries. The bill only addresses sea lions that are not listed under the Endangered Species Act.
Last year, following another round of scientific determinations by technical review teams that lethal removal authority was needed, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration authorized the states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho to permanently remove California sea lions between the months of March and May. Shortly thereafter, the Humane Society of the U.S., filed a complaint and motion for an injunction to block implementation of the states' authority to lethally remove sea lions. An Oregon federal judge denied the injunction, and in February 2013, dismissed the Humane Society's complaint, paving the way for the state permits to proceed this year. On March 12, 2013, the Humane Society filed another appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. H.R. 1308 would stop the continual yearly litigation.