Steller sea lion

A Steller sea lion eats a returning Columbia River salmon.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA-03) and Kurt Schrader (OR-05) on July 14 announced that a joint Community Project Funding request they supported to protect endangered salmon, steelhead and other native fish species within the Columbia River system from sea lion predation, has been approved for $892,000.

The House Appropriations Committee — Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies included the funding request as part of its Fiscal Year 2022 spending plan. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is the recipient and would use the funding on equipment and related needs to remove sea lions in the Columbia River and its tributaries as outlined by a 2018 law Herrera Beutler and Schrader advocated.

The U.S. House as a whole and the U.S. Senate also must approve the spending before it will be dispersed to WDFW.

According to a press release from the representatives, the need for sea lion removal has sharply increased in recent years, as a record number of California and Steller sea lions come to the Columbia, Willamette and Snake Rivers, posing an extreme threat to struggling salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and other fish in the waterways. NOAA Fisheries says sea lions especially prey on adult salmon and steelhead migrating upriver from the ocean to Bonneville Dam, Willamette Falls and other tributaries to the Columbia River, further threatening the growth of native fish populations.

“For too long, our Northwest fish numbers have been decimated by a growing population of sea lions moving into our region’s rivers to gorge on salmon, steelhead, and sturgeon,” Herrera Beutler said. “With sea lion control measures Rep. Schrader and I championed in 2018 now in motion, I’m pleased we were able to boost funding to implement these enhanced efforts and give our fish runs a fighting chance to survive and thrive for generations to come.”

Getting this earmark approved in the House Appropriations Subcommittee is the latest action taken by Reps. Herrera Beutler and Schrader to address the ongoing sea lion predation problem in the Pacific Northwest. In recent years, the Representatives led the Oregon and Washington delegations and local stakeholders to amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which now allows wildlife managers and tribes to remove problem sea lions that are congregating around Bonneville Dam and Willamette Falls and tributaries in the area that are putting salmon and steelhead runs in jeopardy.

But addressing the sea lion predation problem is just one part of an integrative salmon management strategy that involves other state, federal and tribal partners. The whole Pacific Northwest community must also continue working together on habitat restoration and appropriately managing fisheries and hatcheries.

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