October 16, 2006
My agency has been involved in efforts to restore wild salmon and steelhead
populations in the Columbia Basin for several decades. We have worked
with Oregon, Idaho, and the Columbia River Treaty Indian tribes for over
40 years to manage fisheries and to rebuild salmon populations.
Because of these efforts, some salmon and steelhead populations are
increasing, however, many populations remain threatened and endangered.
In response, there has been an extraordinary and growing effort in this
region to protect and recover salmon and steelhead. Recovery plans are
being developed in every watershed, to restore important habitat, improve
dam passage survival, re-tool hatchery programs to assist wild populations,
and reshape fisheries by focusing on selectively harvesting healthy hatchery
This salmon recovery effort has been a major investment for the region
that will continue as recovery plans are completed and further actions
are implemented. The people of the Northwest have supported restoration
efforts, and borne the costs, because of the importance of salmon to
our heritage, the cultural value to Native Americans, and the economic
value of salmon to our fishing communities.
As we address impacts limiting salmon recovery in the Columbia basin
- increasing predation by birds, fish, or marine mammals must be addressed
as part of an overall recovery process.
There is currently a bounty reward system for fishermen to remove pike
minnow fish from the Columbia River system, which are documented as significant
predators of juvenile salmon. Predatory birds are being re-located in
the lower Columbia River to areas where juvenile salmon are less vulnerable
In recent years, another threat has emerged. California Sea Lions have
learned a new behavior, with many of the animals swimming 145 miles up
the Columbia River in the spring to prey on threatened adult salmon while
the fish attempt to pass through fish ladders at Bonneville Dam. Many
of the wild salmon have over 500 miles to travel before completing their
journey from the river mouth to the spawning grounds.
The rate in which the California sea lions are eating wild and hatchery
origin salmon at Bonneville Dam has been increasing. There were 31 sea
lions observed in the area in 2002. The numbers have ranged from 85-111in
the years since 2002. These sea lions have consumed an average of 3 percent
of the spring salmon passing Bonneville Dam over the past two years.
These estimates do not include the salmon consumed by more then 1,000
sea lions that work the 140 miles of the Columbia River and tributaries
downstream of Bonneville Dam. Last year, biologists also observed an
increasing number of sea lions preying on large adult sturgeon preparing
to spawn below Bonneville Dam.
In contrast, both sport and commercial fishing regulations for spring
salmon require that only marked hatchery fish can be retained, while
unmarked wild salmon must be released unharmed. Tribal spring fisheries
have been reduced to levels below their minimum cultural and subsistence
In the past two years, there has been a collective effort by Washington
and Oregon Fish and Wildlife agencies, National Marine Fisheries Service,
the Army Corp Of Engineers, and the Columbia River Treaty Indian Tribes
to assert non-lethal hazing methods in an attempt to change the behavior
of the sea lions in the area near Bonneville Dam.
The hazing efforts temporarily moved animals, but many of the California
sea lions returned within a few hours. Many learn to avoid the hazing
and continue to eat threatened salmon. Some individual California sea
lions have learned to repeatedly return to Bonneville Dam each spring
to eat salmon.
Needless to say, this is a very unnatural situation that requires active
intervention to restore nature's balance. It is vitally important to
restore a balance in the Columbia River between the overly abundant California
sea lion population and the endangered and threatened salmon and steelhead
In areas where wild salmon are vulnerable, we need to use every available
wildlife management tool to restore that balance. When our best efforts
to change a sea lion's behavior fail, we need the authority to remove
those individual animals that have returned to prey on threatened salmon.
The Fish and Wildlife agencies of Washington and Oregon are applying
to the Secretary of Commerce for limited authority to remove California
sea lions, if necessary, to protect wild salmon populations. This authorization
is currently accessible to state and local governments through section
120 of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. However, the process is lengthy
and would not enable action next spring when salmon and steelhead return.
Congressmen Baird and Congressmen Hastings have introduced a Bill that
would hasten the application process and include participation by the
four lower Columbia Treaty Indian tribes as well as the states. Their
introduced amendment limits the number of animals that could be removed
and only applies to individual California sea lions that have not responded
to hazing attempts.
We believe the Bill introduced by Congressmen Baird and Hastings will
not only help us keep the sea lion predation on salmon from getting worse,
but will help us restore the balance between sea lions and salmon. Meanwhile,
Washington and Oregon are jointly proceeding with the Section 120 application
process through the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
We appreciate the effort of our Congressmen to protect the salmon and
steelhead resources of the Northwest. We look forward to working with
them as we continue with regional investments to restore Columbia Basin
salmon. Thank you for your work and your service to the citizens of the