NOAA Considers Ways to Handle Sea Lions That Threaten Protected Salmon

January 17, 2008

NOAA’s Fisheries Service is asking for public comment as it considers four alternatives to deter California sea lions from eating imperiled salmon and steelhead that congregate below the Bonneville Dam on the lower Columbia River as they head upriver to spawn.

The agency’s draft environmental assessment issued today responds to requests in 2006 from Washington, Oregon and Idaho to kill predator sea lions under a provision of the marine mammal law. Of the four alternatives, NOAA is recommending the states use lethal removal only on individual sea lions that continue to eat salmon after deterrence methods are not successful. An estimated 30 nuisance animals would be killed annually.

During the past three years, NOAA’s Fisheries Service and other state, tribal, and federal agencies have tested non-lethal deterrence methods to discourage the sea lions from foraging at the dam, but these efforts have been largely unsuccessful. About a quarter of the salmon and steelhead eaten by the sea lions are from stocks listed under the Endangered Species Act and considered important for the survival of the species.

Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, states can ask for permission to kill individually identifiable sea lions or seals that are having a “significant negative impact” on at-risk salmon and steelhead, and NOAA’s Fisheries Service can grant that permission, if certain legal standards are met.

NOAA’s Fisheries Service convened a special task force last fall to make recommendations about the states’ request. Nearly all task force members said last November that the federal agency should grant the states’ request.

Today’s draft environmental assessment lays out these four alternatives:

Under both alternatives that approve killing California sea lions, specific safety measures would be put in place and an animal-care committee, approved by NOAA’s Fisheries Service, would be established to advise on standards for humanely capturing, holding and killing predatory sea lions.

The agency is asking for public comment on its draft environmental assessment until Feb. 19. It is expected to make a final decision on the issue in late March. Copies of the draft and how to comment can be found online.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 70 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts, and protects.