Columbia River sea lion predation bill passes U.S. Senate
Yesterday, bipartisan legislation to protect salmon and steelhead from excessive sea lion predation in the Columbia River basin took a historic step forward when the full U.S. Senate passed the Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Act (S. 3119), sponsored by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Jim Risch (R-ID). S. 3119 is nearly identical to H.R. 2083, which is sponsored by Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR) and passed the full U.S. House of Representatives this summer by a strong, bipartisan vote. S. 3119 now moves to the U.S. House, where we believe it will pass before the current Congress concludes later this month and then be sent to the President.
“We greatly appreciate the bipartisan efforts of Senators Cantwell and Risch to secure Senate passage of this critical legislation,” said Gary Loomis, founder of G-Loomis, Edge Rods, and Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) in the Pacific Northwest. “Current law is failing wild and endangered Columbia River basin salmon and steelhead populations, some of which face an imminent risk of extinction if nothing is done to address the unnatural levels of sea lion predation and restore balance to this unique ecosystem. Every member of the U.S. House of Representatives – Republican and Democrat – from Oregon, Washington, and Idaho voted for similar legislation this summer and the six U.S. Senators from these states came together to pass this critical legislation to protect our salmon.”
S. 3119 would amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) to provide Northwest states and Columbia River treaty tribes streamlined authorities to effectively address excessive sea lion predation where were know the problem is most acute, including a large stretch of the river below Bonneville Dam, in the Willamette River, and in other tributaries. Past efforts to pass similar legislation have stalled in the U.S. Senate, but this year Senators from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho came together around the Cantwell-Risch legislation to approve these important reforms. The effort also benefited from a coalition that included the states of Oregon and Washington, the Columbia River Treaty Tribes, and sportfishing and conservation groups, including CCA.
“This complicated situation presents a significant threat to the continued existence of iconic salmon populations, and it requires that we restore balance to this ecosystem,” said Ted Venker, director of conservation for CCA National. “We appreciate that Senators Cantwell and Risch joined with Representatives Herrera Beutler and Schrader to move this critical legislation that is based on the science and the views of federal, state and tribal fishery managers. While no one wants to remove one animal to save another, taking this action today represents the best chance for Columbia River basin salmon and steelhead tomorrow.”
For years, CCA chapters in Oregon and Washington have been a leading voice in the sportfishing community in support of federal legislation to reduce excessive sea lion predation in the Columbia River basin – rallying their members to contact their lawmakers, organizing public events, securing state funding for interim measures, and orchestrating state legislative hearings. The legislation has gained broader support as the dire need for action has been confirmed, including by a recent Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) study finding that endangered Willamette River winter steelhead face a 90% chance of extinction if nothing is done to reduce sea lion predation in the Willamette River.