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Merkley-Wyden bill allows sea lion 'lethal deterrence'

Protect endangered salmon, respect tribal rights

Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., introduced Tuesday the Predation Reduction of Salmon (PRO Salmon) Act. The PRO Salmon Act would address the urgent issue of sea lion predation of endangered salmon on the Columbia River and at Willamette Falls, while promoting tribal management of natural resources and ensuring the humane removal of animals through "lethal deterrence."

Sea lions are currently having a devastating impact on endangered salmon recovery, eating up to 25 percent of certain salmon runs, the senators said. At Willamette Falls, for example, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife research estimates that unless sea lion predation is addressed, the winter steelhead run in the Willamette River will likely face extinction. 

Current efforts to manage sea lion predation, including hazing and non-lethal deterrence, have not been effective, the lawmakers said.

When the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife captured two sea lions at Willamette Falls and transported them 230 miles away to Newport, the sea lions returned to the falls in less than a week. Despite the best efforts from state wildlife managers, Wyden and Merkley said federal legislation is needed to address the growing problem of sea lion predation.

“Salmon are critical to Oregon’s culture and heritage, and it’s clear that sea lions are creating a serious threat to endangered salmon that needs to be solved,” Merkley said. “It’s possible to address this problem in a targeted way that enables equitable tribal management and does not impact sea lion populations, and that is what we should strive for.”

“Sea lions are taking a bite out of Oregon’s salmon and steelhead stocks, and it’s clear a response is needed to reverse the rapidly reducing supply of these endangered fish in Oregon’s rivers and waterways,” Wyden said. “This legislation will help solve the challenge of this dwindling supply of salmon and steelhead, protecting good-paying recreation jobs and Oregon’s coastal and fishing communities.”

The PRO Salmon Act would target critical endangered salmon habitat and give wildlife managers more flexibility to remove the sea lions from areas where salmon are most at risk, including Bonneville Dam, Willamette Falls and other emerging areas. The PRO Salmon Act would also ensure humane treatment of sea lions, stronger than current federal law.

The PRO Salmon Act would allow the States of Oregon, Idaho, and Washington to enter into agreements with tribes who have legal or historic interests in the protection of salmon to manage sea lion predation.

“Senator Merkley's bill recognizes that Oregon tribes such as Siletz continue to have a unique interest in salmon recovery and should not be sidelined by Congress in sea lion management,” said Dee Pigsley, tribal chairman of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians. “Tribes can play both a scientific and cultural role in restoring balance in the river for our salmon.”


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