Bipartisan bill to protect endangered salmon and steelhead passes Senate without objection

Passage of the legislation underscores the bipartisan urgency to protect ESA-listed salmon and steelhead from predatory sea lions threatening their existence

Washington, D.C. – Critical, bipartisan legislation led by U.S. Senators Jim Risch (R-ID) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) to protect Endangered Species Act (ESA) listed salmon and steelhead from extinction has passed the Senate without objection. The entire Northwest Senate delegation, including U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) have cosponsored S.3119, the Endangered Salmon Predation Prevention Act, emphasizing how critical this legislation is to the existence of salmon and steelhead in the interconnected Northwest waterways. The House is expected to consider the bill before the end of the year. 

“Idaho’s efforts to restore populations of endangered salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River has been significantly compromised by predatory sea lions,”  said Senator Risch. “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.”

“Wild salmon play a critical role in the economy, culture, and tribal treaty rights of the Pacific Northwest,” Senator Cantwell said. “As endangered salmon face extinction, we must take steps to protect them. Science-based predation management will allow state and tribal wildlife officials to protect vulnerable salmon populations and the orcas that feed on them.”

“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,” Senator 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.”

“For too long, predatory sea lions have been taking an unhealthy chomp out of Oregon’s salmon and steelhead stocks. This bill applies a reasoned, collaborative approach to address, in a permanent manner, sea lion predation on endangered salmon and steelhead,”  said Senator Wyden.“This bill took a long time to negotiate. 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.”

“Predatory sea lions on the Lower Columbia River have had a dramatic impact on the steelhead and salmon populations across the northwest,”said Senator Crapo.  “This bipartisan legislation is the result of significant collaboration across multiple stakeholders to protect our native fish populations for generations to come.”

“Salmon are a big part of the Pacific Northwest way of life, but without action, we could see runs continue to decline to a point of no return,” Senator Murray said. “This bipartisan legislation represents a balanced, sensible approach to this threat. I urge my House colleagues to pick the bill up and get it across the finish line as soon as possible.” 

There are ESA threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead being significantly harmed by the increasing sea lion population. Sea lion populations have increased significantly along the West Coast over the past 40 years; today, there are roughly 300,000. These sea lions have entered into habitat where they had never been before, including areas around the Bonneville Dam in Washington and Willamette Falls in Oregon. This predation of ESA-listed fish is negating the large investments being spent on salmon recovery associated with habitat, harvest, and hatcheries. If enacted, this bill would amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 to provide for better management of these invasive, non-listed sea lions.

A  recent study  by Oregon State University found that increasing predation from sea lions has decreased the fishery harvest of adult Chinook salmon in the Pacific Northwest. According to the study, if sea lions continue their current consumption habits, there is an 89 percent chance that a population of wild steelhead could go extinct. The study also noted that future long-term salmon management plans will need to address the increased salmon predation throughout the Pacific Northwest.

The declining salmon populations have also impacted other threatened animals in the Pacific Northwest. Recently, a Washington state task force on southern resident orcas  recommended authorizing the removal of pinnipeds in the Columbia River to improve orca survival.