The National Marine Fisheries Service is seeking comments until Oct. 29 on a request by three states and four tribes for permission to capture and kill sea lions in a 180-mile stretch of the lower Columbia River and its tributaries.

The agency recently published a notice in the Aug. 30 Federal Register soliciting comments on a June 13 application from Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama tribes seeking a five-year permit to euthanize as many as 900 California sea lions and 250 Steller sea lions annually.

“This action is intended to reduce or eliminate California and Steller sea lions in the main stem of the Columbia between river mile 112 and McNary Dam (river mile 292), or any tributary that includes spawning habitat of threatened or endangered salmon or steelhead,” the notice states.

A task force—which has not yet been selected—will review the application and public comments and recommend whether to approve or deny the application. NMFS will use the recommendation to make a final decision.

In addition to seeking comments on the application, NMFS is asking for names and affiliations of potential task force members. It is to be made up of Department of Commerce employees, scientists knowledgeable about pinnipeds, representatives of conservation and fishing organizations, states, tribes and other appropriate organizations.

The states and tribes submitted their application six months after Congress amended the Marine Mammal Protection Act to allow for the lethal removal of sea lions throughout the lower Columbia without requiring the individual identification of each sea lion, and proof that it was preying on a threatened or endangered fish.

The number of sea lions sought for lethal removal is based on a formula that ensures sustainability of these sea lion populations. The agency estimates there are now about 300,000 California sea lions, and 52,000 Steller sea lions in its eastern population. Neither is listed as threatened or endangered.

Kessina Lee, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Region 5 director, told Clearing Up in June that the states have only killed 219 California sea lions since 2008, when a permit for lethal removal at Bonneville Dam was first issued (CU No. 1907 [13]). According to the application, the agencies estimate that between 144 and 286 California sea lions, and 105 and 130 Steller sea lions, currently frequent the lower Columbia.

K.C. Mehaffey covers fish issues for Clearing Up, and is editor of the NW Fishletter. She joined the NewsData writing team in February 2018. From lawsuits to scientific studies, she is enjoying the deep dive into the Columbia Basin's many fish topics.