NOAA allows Oregon to continue killing sea lions that threaten salmon

Stock photo of a sea lion

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries has authorized the states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho to continue killing California sea lions that threaten salmon and steelhead near Bonneville Dam.

The authorization will run for five years (through June 30, 2021), and is one of many actions underway across the Columbia Basin to address impacts on the imperiled species of fish.

Hydroelectric dams, hatcheries, harvest, habitat degradation and other predators including sea lions threaten salmon and steelhead in the area, according to NOAA.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act allows the lethal removal of "individually identifiable sea lions or seals" that are having a "significant negative impact" on fish listed under the Endangered Species Act.

NOAA says sea lions at Bonneville dam prey on five threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead stocks.

Last year, sea lions were estimated to have consumed nearly 10,000 adult spring Chinook salmon, amounting to more than three percent of returning adult fish, according to NOAA Fisheries.

An estimated 25 to 35 percent the fish consumed are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

In their application for authorization, the three states noted that the number of sea lions and their consumption of protected salmon has increased since 2013, and lethal removal must continue "to prevent these stocks from becoming further depressed."

NOAA Fisheries first granted the states authorization to kill sea lions in 2008. Litigation interrupted the effort, but the states reapplied in 2011. By 2012, NOAA authorized the three states to remove up to 92 California sea lions each year for five years.

The states have removed 166 animals since 2008, with the most sea lions removed in a single year amounting to 59 in 2016.

NOAA says killing sea lions is a last resort after trying other methods of deterring them from preying on salmon. The states estimate that sea lion removals at Bonneville Dam have prevented the loss of 15,000 to 20,000 salmon and steelhead.

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