Sea lions below Bonneville dam minor impediment to salmon recovery

Statement by Michael Garrity of American Rivers Contact: Michael Garrity, associate director of Columbia Basin programs, 206-213-0330 Sea lions are a small, but not insignificant, factor in Columbia Basin salmon declines. Our region has a responsibility to do what it takes to recover healthy salmon runs. All sources of salmon mortality, including predation by sea lions, should be considered and, if warranted, reduced through appropriate actions. But sea lions are a minor threat to salmon relative to dams, de-watered rivers, and the other major forms of habitat destruction throughout the Columbia Basin. To recover salmon we need to address these major reasons for salmon declines. Dams are responsible for killing about 50% of the threatened Snake River spring/summer chinook run during their downstream migration, even more in low water years. Sea lions, on the other hand, have recently been killing about 3% of returning adult salmon. Sea lion predation in the lower Columbia is a problem because dam construction and operation, habitat degradation, outdated hatchery practices, and past overfishing have led to spring chinook runs that are only a small fraction of historical levels. In order to pass over Bonneville Dam, salmon are crowded into a confined space where they enter the fish ladder, creating an unnatural and easy place for sea lions to prey on them. Non-lethal means should be used to the fullest extent to deter sea lions from eating salmon at Bonneville Dam. In the event that does not work, a narrowly tailored program to cull certain sea lions may prove necessary. Position on H.R. 6241, the “Endangered Salmon Predation Prevention Act” American Rivers has concerns about HR 6241 as it is currently written. HR 6241, introduced by Reps. Baird (D-WA) and Hastings (R-WA) to clear the way to kill sea lions that are feeding on Columbia River salmon and steelhead, may go beyond what is necessary to address the problem of excessive predation by sea lions below Bonneville Dam. The federal Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) already allows for certain sea lions to be killed within 105 days of an application (see section 120 (c) of the MMPA), and the 2007 salmon and steelhead migration does not begin until March, which appears to provide sufficient time for the MMPA process to be used. In addition, American Rivers is concerned that HR 6241 would unnecessarily waive application of the environmental review and alternatives analysis required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when there appears to be sufficient time to conduct such an analysis and select appropriate actions prior to the 2007 salmon and steelhead migration season. NEPA is a bedrock environmental protection law, and its waiver would set a troubling precedent. We hope that HR 6241 will be amended to preserve NEPA’s critical safeguards for informed decision-making and to ensure that the culling of sea lions authorized by the bill is necessary and limited to the specific problem of excessive predation near Bonneville Dam.