A U.S. House of
Representatives subcommittee on Thursday heard testimony pro
and con regarding proposed legislation to expedite the process
for gaining permission to lethally remove sea lions preying on
federally protected salmon in the Columbia River.
proposed "Endangered Salmon Predation Prevention Act" would
amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 to authorize
the Secretary of Commerce to issue one-year permits for the
lethal taking of up to 10 California sea lions.
It would require the secretary first to determine if
alternative measures to reduce sea lion predation on
threatened or endangered salmonid stocks in the Columbia River
adequately protect the salmonid stocks from such predation. If
not, it would require the department to respond within 30 days
to applications from states and tribes for lethal removal
The bill would limit cumulative annual taking of California
sea lions to 1 percent of the annual potential biological
removal level of such sea lions. It would waive National
Environment Policy Act requirements for the permits.
In opening remarks, Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and
Oceans Chair Madeleine Z. Bordallo noted that, "There already
is a provision in the Marine Mammal Protection Act that was
included in 1994 to address salmon predation by sea lions.
Section 120 authorizes the Secretary to permit the intentional
lethal taking of sea lions. The states of Washington, Oregon
and Idaho applied for a Section 120 permit late last year.
"I am interested in learning more about why the existing
process is not working," she said.
Washington Rep. Brian Baird, who introduced the legislation
last fall along with fellow Washingtonians Doc Hastings and
Norm Dicks and Oregon Congressman Greg Walden, said the
predation situation is severe and the existing process too
"Our limited experience with Section 120 at the Ballard
Locks in Seattle demonstrated that the potential for
litigation and the volume of data that needs to be collected
result in a process that will almost certainly take years.
These are years that the salmon population in the Pacific
Northwest cannot afford," Baird told the committee.
"I want to make clear that I am personally saddened that
lethal measures are necessary," according to Baird testimony
posted on the House Natural Resources committee web site. "I
certainly do not celebrate the death of any animal.
Unfortunately, an endangered species is at serious risk and we
have the means to do something about it."
Sharon B. Young, Marine Issues field director for the
Humane Society of the United States, criticized federal
agencies for making the existing process longer than it needs
to be, and the proposed legislation for suggesting that needed
environmental reviews be ignored.
The Humane Society "must oppose this legislation, largely
because we believe there are existing mechanisms in federal
law to handle the sea lion-salmon conflicts and because the
bill would establish a dangerous precedent in short-circuiting
NEPA review and in opening up other possibilities for
carve-outs for expanded lethal control of marine mammals."
She said Section 120 contains "fairly short timeframes for
expeditious response to applications…" that can be completed
in three months' time. The exception is the open-ended process
for the Commerce Department's NOAA Fisheries Service to
establish a task force to review applications.
"The problem is not that the MMPA Section 120 process is
'protracted' but that the National Marine Fisheries Service,
which is charged with its implementation, does not follow the
deadlines that are established in the Act," Young said.
She noted that the application from the states of
Washington, Oregon and Idaho was submitted in November, but
NOAA's finding on the sufficiency of the application did not
appear until January 30, 2007, well outside the MMPA's 15-day
"Rather than amend the MMPA, Congress needs to insist that
the NMFS take its statutory obligations seriously," she said.
"… this Bill would substitute a process that drastically
curtails public comment and allows killing of close to 100
random pinnipeds annually who spend time in the river where
salmon are migrating," Young said. "At the same time it
exempts this process from complying with what is arguably
among the most important pieces of environmental legislation
that assures the use of the best science and independent
review of project and policy proposals."
Fidelia Andy of the Yakama Nation said treaty tribes do not
take the "National Environmental Protection Act exemption in
this legislation lightly."
"NEPA is a law that we work with on a regular basis," said
Andy, chair of Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.
"However, this is a short term, five year exemption focused
exclusively on managing the most aggressive individual
California sea lions whose predation severely impacts an
entire wild salmon population."
The existing process works, but Columbia predation
situation requires a speedier response. She said. Last year
sea lions consumed an estimated 4 percent of the spring salmon
run in the waters immediately below the Columbia's Bonneville
"We hope for a National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration decision on the task force's recommendations
prior to next spring's salmon run; however the real challenge
is NOAA's ability to shepherd any decision through the NEPA
process. Most policy makers and biologists working on this
issue predict the Section 120 will take years," Andy said.
She noted that the fish stock the Section 120 MMPA was
intended to save -- steelhead on spawning runs through
Seattle's Ballard Locks -- are now functionally extinct.
"At Ballard Locks the sea lions basically wiped out the
Lake Washington run of winter Steelhead during a multi-year
period in which various interest groups fought against what
the professional managers for the Washington State Department
of Fish and Wildlife wanted to do, a limited take of the most
problematic sea lions," she said.
"We need more options to deal with the growing sea lion
depredation and we need timely solutions to protect our
ceremonial, subsistence and commercial harvests for salmon,
lamprey and sturgeon," Andy said.
John E. Reynolds, III, chairman of the Marine Mammal
Commission, said "The Commission agrees with the principle of
timely response, but believes that in the Bonneville case, the
section 120 process will be completed in time to determine
whether, and the extent to which lethal removal authority is
warranted, before the salmon runs of concern begin in 2008."
The newly formed task force holds its first meeting Sept. 4
and then has 60 days to deliver recommendations on the lethal
removal application to NOAA. The agency has said it will make
its decision on the application by March. The NEPA process has
begun, but cannot hit full stride until it receives the task
force recommendations, according to NOAA officials.
"In conclusion, the Commission supports the special
attention being given by this Subcommittee to fish
conservation in the Columbia River including the possibility
of selective removal of sea lions that are contributing to the
problem. However, we do not believe that H.R. 1769 provides a
sufficiently robust process for this purpose," Reynolds said.
"If, in the following year we learn of shortcomings in the
ongoing section 120 process, then the Commission would be
pleased to participate in further discussions to address those
shortcomings," he said.
NOAA Fisheries' Northwest regional administrator, Bob Lohn,
told the committee that his agency has long recognized that
the "process as currently written has been difficult to
implement effectively and could be improved. We recognize that
H.R. 1769 was introduced to address these kinds of concerns,
but the bill, as currently drafted, would neither fully
realize the goals of the MMPA, nor meet the objectives
expressed in the bill.
"In 1999, NMFS recommended to Congress that the MMPA be
amended to, among other things; allow lethal removal of
pinnipeds to protect threatened or endangered fish and fish
that are species of concern in the affected states and to
resolve human-pinniped conflicts other than predation," Lohn
said. "These recommendations are still valid, and the
Subcommittee should consider a comprehensive approach to the
use of lethal measures to manage pinnipeds when Congress takes
up the reauthorization of the MMPA."
"The MMPA has provided strong protections for all marine
mammals, regardless of their population status, for more than
30 years. Any attempt to modify it to allow removal of
pinnipeds, even for essential resource management purposes,
will be perceived as reducing protections for marine mammals
and thereby weakening the Act," Lohn said. His agency is
charged with protecting those mammals listeds under the MMPA
and salmon and steelhead that are ESA-listed.
Links to the hearing’s testimony can be found at