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NW Fishletter #381, May 7, 2018

[9] Oregon Abandons Sea Lion Relocation Efforts

After relocating 10 California sea lions from below Willamette Falls, only to see them return within a week, Oregon officials decided to abandon those efforts and focus instead on sea lions feasting on salmon and steelhead at the base of Bonneville Dam. That's because they have permission to kill some sea lions at Bonneville, but are still waiting for federal approval of a permit for lethal removal at Willamette Falls.

"Clearly our experience on the Willamette River this year demonstrated the futility of relocating sea lions as a way of stopping them from driving our native fish runs to extinction," Shaun Clements, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's senior policy advisor, said in a news release. Attempts to scare the sea lions away through hazing have also been unsuccessful. The agency says it doesn't have enough staff to cover both locations, and decided their time would be better spent at Bonneville.

The decision comes even while agency officials say Willamette steelhead are on the verge of extinction, with just 512 crossing the falls last year after sea lions consumed about 25 percent of returning adults. Again this year, more than 25 California sea lions and an uncounted number of Stellar sea lions have made Willamette Falls their temporary home, eating returning salmon, steelhead and lamprey.

ODFW says some 1,338 wild Willamette steelhead have crossed the falls so far this year--more than last year, but still well below historical runs that often topped 10,000 fish. "It's our responsibility and mandate from the people of Oregon to ensure these fish runs continue," Clements said in the release. "So it's incredibly frustrating to us that federal laws prevent us from taking the only steps effective at protecting these fish from predation."

California sea lions are not listed under the Endangered Species Act, but are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Oregon officials don't expect a decision on their request to lethally remove some sea lions until at least 2019.

In the news release, ODFW said the Willamette is not the only tributary where sea lions are becoming a problem for returning salmon and steelhead, and they are also monitoring sea lions on the Clackamas and Sandy rivers.

The agency has asked the region's congressional delegation for help, so they can address issues with marine mammals in a more timely manner. -K.C. M.

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