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).
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.
“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?