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Feds to Allow Sea Lion Killings in Oregon

by Staff
Salem-News, March 17, 2012

The agency pegged the current West Coast population of California sea lions at nearly 300,000

Sea Lion: West Coast population of California sea lions estimated at nearly 300,000 (SEATTLE LID) - The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has granted a five-year permit for the killing of California sea lions that are eating threatened salmon and steelhead near Bonneville Dam in northwest Oregon.

To curb losses of endangered or threatened fish, NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced that Oregon, Washington and Idaho may each year kill up to 92 sea lions that have a "significant negative impact" on at-risk salmon and steelhead runs on the Columbia River.

Sea lions congregate about 140 miles from the Pacific Ocean, below the dam spillways and fish ladders so they can feast on the fish trying to swim up the Columbia River to spawn.

The NMFS said recovery plans for the salmon and steelhead populations recommends that "all causes of mortality be reduced" to recover the fish runs.

"Neither the states nor we have treated the reduction of sea lion predation as a solution that by itself will recover depressed salmon and steelhead runs, but rather as one of many actions that taken together can lead to recovery," the NMFS said in a fact sheet. "Tribal, state and federal agencies have restricted numerous human activities and spent hundreds of millions of dollars to reduce human impacts to Columbia River salmon and steelhead."

The NMFS-issued permit runs through May 2016. The Bonneville Dam is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Although sea lions are protected by the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA; 16 U.S.C. §§ 1361 et seq.), Section 120 of the law allows states to be granted permission to kill individually identifiable California sea lions or seals that are harming at-risk salmon and steelhead.

In August 2011, the states requested authorization to remove predatory sea lions at the dam, about 40 miles upstream from Portland.

Government biologists estimate that California sea lions have for the past eight years annually eaten between 1.5 percent and 4 percent of returning adult salmon congregating below Bonneville Dam on their way to spawn.

NOAA said most of the fish eaten were spring Chinook or steelhead, and almost a third of the salmon and steelhead eaten by the sea lions are from stocks listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA; 16 U.S.C. §§1531 et seq.).

The agency pegged the current West Coast population of California sea lions at nearly 300,000.

NOAA first authorized the states to kill sea lions in 2008. The program was suspended for a time by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, amid a lawsuit filed by the Humane Society of the United States.

Plaintiffs in the case argued that NMFS's March 2008 decision to allow of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho to kill certain nuisance sea lions at Bonneville Dam under MMPA section 120 was "arbitrary and capricious" within the meaning of the Administrative Procedure Act because the decision was inconsistent with other agency decisions related to ESA and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA; 42 U.S.C.§ § 4321 et seq.)

The agency, they also argued, failed to apply the correct legal standard for authorizing a lethal taking of sea lions under Section 120.

A three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in November 2010, questioned why the Fisheries Service allowed fishermen to catch the protected salmon but not sea lions.

Feds to Allow Sea Lion Killings in Oregon
Salem-News, March 17, 2012

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