Bipartisan federal legislation to protect Endangered Species Act-listed salmon and steelhead from extinction has passed the Senate without objection.
Led by U.S. Senators Jim Risch, R-Idaho and Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, the Endangered Salmon Predation Prevention Act was approved by the entire Northwest Senate delegation including U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, Patty Murray D-Washington, and Mike Crapo R-Idaho.
If enacted, the bill would amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 to allow the “taking” of sea lions that are threatening the fishes’ existence.
The House is expected to consider the bill before the end of the year.
“Salmon are critical to Oregon’s economy, culture and heritage, and it’s clear that sea lions are creating a serious threat to the very survival of endangered salmon,” Merkley said. “I’m glad we could find a bipartisan path forward to address this problem in a targeted way that enables equitable tribal management and does not materially impact sea lion populations.”
The sea lions, which feed on salmon during their fall migration, have been particularly problematic on the Columbia River. Salmon need to be able to pass the mouth of the river to get to breeding grounds all the way into Idaho.
“Idaho’s efforts to restore populations of endangered salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River has been significantly compromised by predatory sea lions,” Risch said. “Passage of this legislation will help ensure vibrant, healthy populations for years to come. I encourage my colleagues in the House to pass this bill expeditiously.”
“As endangered salmon face extinction, we must take steps to protect them,” Cantwell said. “Science-based predation management will allow state and tribal wildlife officials to protect vulnerable salmon populations and the orcas that feed on them.”
“This bill took a long time to negotiate,” Wyden noted. “There were a lot of interests with stakes in this process, including multiple states and many tribal nations. This bipartisan compromise shows that Congress can still function in a bipartisan way.”
There are roughly 300,000 sea lions on the West Coast, and they’ve spread into new habitat.
A recent study by Oregon State University says if sea lions continue their current consumption habits, there is an 89 percent chance that a population of wild steelhead could become extinct.