Cantwell, Risch Introduce Legislation to Protect Salmon, Manage Sea Lion Populations

Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act would help restore endangered and threatened salmon and steelhead populations through science-based management of sea lions

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Jim Risch (R-ID) introduced legislation to give state and tribal fishery managers more flexibility to address predatory sea lions in the Columbia River system that are threatening both salmon and steelhead populations listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act would amend a portion of the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 to provide for better science-based management of sea lion populations.

“Pacific salmon are central to our culture, our livelihoods, and our economy in the Pacific Northwest,” Senator Cantwell said. “Taxpayers throughout Washington, Idaho, and Oregon have made significant investments in Pacific salmon restoration, and we must continue to support science-based management methods to ensure future generations have access to wild Pacific Northwest salmon. I want to thank my colleague Senator Risch for working with me on this bipartisan, science-based solution that will help protect salmon for future generations.”

“Salmon consumption at the Bonneville Dam is five times what it was five years ago, and threatened and endangered species of salmon are being damaged by sea lions in the Columbia River,” said Senator Risch.

Federal, state, and tribal governments and other organizations have made significant conservation and restoration investments throughout the Pacific Northwest. Sea lion populations have increased significantly along the West Coast over the past 40 years; today, there are roughly 300,000. These sea lions have entered into habitat where they had never been before, including areas around the Bonneville Dam and Willamette Falls.

A recent study by Oregon State University found that increasing predation from sea lions has decreased the fishery harvest of adult Chinook salmon in the Pacific Northwest. According to the study, if sea lions continue their current salmon consumption habits, there is an 89 percent chance that a population of wild steelhead could go extinct. The study also noted that future long-term salmon management plans will need to address the increased salmon predation throughout the Pacific Northwest.

“This bill provides a thoughtful and practical approach to addressing sea lion predation in critical areas of the Columbia River,” said Guido Rahr, President of the Wild Salmon Center. “It also for the first time enables managers to respond before the number and habits of sea lions become an insurmountable problem for returning wild salmon and steelhead populations. Salmon recovery requires a multi-faceted response. We appreciate the leadership of Senator Cantwell on this issue.”

“Senator Cantwell has stepped up during a crisis and delivered a solution to prevent extinction of fragile Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead stocks. The businesses of NSIA are appreciative of the Senator’s leadership in resolving this very tough issue. All who care about salmon recovery, food for Southern Resident Killer Whales, and have jobs that depend on healthy fish stocks owe Senator Cantwell our deepest gratitude,” said Liz Hamilton, Executive Director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association.

The bipartisan bill introduced by Senators Cantwell and Risch would allow wildlife agencies to better protect vulnerable fish populations through science-based management of these invasive, non-ESA listed sea lion populations, while also maintaining a strong Marine Mammal Protection Act that supports research, science-based management, and public process.