Yesterday, bipartisan legislation to protect salmon and steelhead from excessive sea lion predation in the Columbia River basin took a big step forward when the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation passed the Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Act (S. 3119), sponsored by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Jim Risch (R-ID). S. 3119 is nearly identical to H.R. 2083, which is sponsored by Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR) and passed the full U.S. House of Representatives on June 26 by a strong, bipartisan vote of 288-116.
“We greatly appreciate the bipartisan efforts of Senators Cantwell and Risch to move this critical legislation forward in the U.S. Senate,” said Gary Loomis, founder of G-Loomis, Edge Rods, and Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) in the Pacific Northwest. “Current law is failing wild and endangered Columbia River basin salmon and steelhead populations, some of which face an imminent risk of extinction if nothing is done to address the unnatural levels of sea lion predation and restore balance to this unique ecosystem. Every member of the U.S. House of Representatives – Republican and Democrat – from Oregon, Washington, and Idaho voted for this legislation and now we need the six U.S. Senators from these states to come together around this bipartisan, compromise legislation before it is too late.”
S. 3119 and H.R. 2083 would amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) to provide Northwest states and Columbia River treaty tribes streamlined authorities to effectively address excessive sea lion predation where the problem is most acute, including below Bonneville Dam, at Willamette Falls, and on tributary spawning grounds. Over the past decade, the legislation has enjoyed strong support in the U.S. House of Representatives and passed with bipartisan support, but yesterday’s Senate committee action represents the first major step forward in the U.S. Senate.
“This complicated situation presents a significant threat to the continued existence of iconic salmon populations, and unfortunately it requires some hard choices to be made,” said Ted Venker, director of conservation for CCA National. “We appreciate that Senators Cantwell and Risch closely evaluated the science and the views of federal, state and tribal fishery managers about the need for decisive action. While no one wants to remove one animal to save another, taking this action today represents the best chance for Columbia River basin salmon and steelhead tomorrow.”
For years, CCA chapters in Oregon and Washington have been a leading voice in the sportfishing community in support of federal legislation to reduce excessive sea lion predation in the Columbia River basin – rallying their members to contact their lawmakers, organizing public events, securing state funding for interim measures, and orchestrating state legislative hearings. The legislation has gained broader support as the dire need for action has been confirmed, including by a recent Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) study finding that endangered Willamette River winter steelhead face a 90% chance of extinction if nothing is done to reduce sea lion predation in the Willamette River.