Willamette Wild Steelhead Runs Improve after Sea Lions Euthanized

Willamette Wild Steelhead Runs Improve after Sea Lions Euthanized

Columbia and Willamette river salmon and steelhead have faced serious threats from California sea lions that prey on fish waiting to move up the fish ladders at Bonneville Dam and Willamette Falls.

Since the 1990’s, sea lions have consumed tens of thousands of migrating fish at these two locations, many from threatened and endangered runs protected under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).

willamette falls

Wild Willamette steelhead counts are looking to be some of the best seen in three years. ODFW’s biologists are hoping to see this continued improvement. 

“We’re excited to see some of the best winter steelhead returns in recent years,” said Dr. Shaun Clements, ODFW senior policy analyst. “We’re encouraged by the fish numbers and by the success in implementing the sea lion removal program. We’ve definitely been able to reduce predation this year and provide some relief to the fish.”

Over 2,400 winter steelhead have crossed Willamette Falls with about 3,200 winter steelhead predicted.

Last year’s return was 1,829 fish, and in 2017 only 822 returned...


ODFW biologists have been monitoring Willamette wild winter steelhead for a number of years and have shown that California sea lions were consuming up to 25 percent of the winter steelhead run. Biologists warned that unless something was done to protect the steelhead from such heavy losses to predation, the fish were in imminent danger of going extinct.

Since mid-December, ODFW has removed and euthanized 13 California sea lions. Many of these animals had been present in the vicinity of Willamette Falls since last August and almost all had been coming to the Falls for a number of years.

steelhead roger

“We typically see an increase in sea lion abundance at the Falls in April as additional animals move in to feed on the more abundant spring Chinook,” said Clements. “We always expected it would take 2-3 years to fully manage predation at this site but we’re encouraged by the early results.”

 What are your thoughts? Should Sea Lions continue to be removed or should they be allowed to feed at the falls?


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I absolutely agree with the concept of permanent removal of predatory sea lions. That would apply to the Willamette Falls area, Bonneville Dam and other areas where they are shown to be impacting Salmon, Steelhead and Sturgeon populations. Sea Lions have long been protected, with no natural predators beyond their traditional ocean habitat. When they enter freshwater areas, the most effective control has to be accomplished through human intervention, such as was shown at Willamette Falls.

Roger Staver

In the river or estuary kill them all. Plenty left in the ocean. Plenty left for seal huggers.

Brice Autry

Adios, sea lions!

Hugh O'Donnell

I think they should all be removed after they go a mile up into the Columbia River. They aren’t endangered anymore there are too many of them.

Robert N Huebner

The California Sea Lions are not as endangered as the salmon and steelhead runs that they prey upon and they do not contribute to the economy as the salmon and steelhead runs do. A reasonable balance between the preservation of the various species is what’s needed.

Phil Hamblin

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