Federal Funding for Killing Sea Lions Might Help Cowlitz River Salmon


Though the actions taken to secure $892,000 in federal funding for the protection of Columbia River system salmon took place thousands of miles from Lewis County, the process could have positive impacts for fishermen of the Upper Cowlitz River and the Columbia basin as a whole.

As a result of a joint effort between U.S. Representatives Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, and Kurt Schrader, a Democrat from Oregon, the appropriations bill passed by congress will include funds to continue the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) efforts to kill sea lions on the Columbia River, protecting salmon and steelhead.

“She crafted the legislation to allow state entities to apply for permits to remove sea lions at different locations along the Columbia and its tributaries, so WDFW has the ability and now more resources to apply to remove sea lions that would more directly affect populations in other areas, like the upper Cowlitz,” said Herrera Beutler spokesperson Craig Wheeler in an email to The Chronicle. 

And although that doesn’t mean the agency is yet sending folks to Mossyrock or Toledo to shoot salmon-hungry sea lions, it does have basinwide implications for fish populations. Sea lion extermination has been shown to be effective in protecting fish.

According to a news release from Herrera Beutler’s office, in 2017, there were reports of sea lions ravaging steelhead nearly to the brink of extinction in Willamette Falls. 

It was reported that from January 2017 to August 2017, only 512 fish made it above the falls, an all-time low. Apparently, sea lions had decimated a quarter of the wild winter steelhead below the falls. 

A report by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife stated there was a 90% chance one of the upriver populations would go extinct if action wasn't taken to stem sea lion predation.

The sea lions on the Columbia River are often considered to be invasive, many of which travel from California to gobble up one of northwesterners’ favorite fish.

A few years later, after the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife was granted permission to remove sea lions near Willamette Falls, a resurgence of winter steelhead passed above the falls. 

According to one Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife official, removing sea lions was a big factor in the bolstered numbers of endangered steelhead at Willamette Falls, the release stated.

“With the sea lion control law that Rep. Schrader and I championed in 2018 now being implemented, the funding we have secured will ensure wildlife managers are continuing to remove the worst-offending sea lions,” Herrera Beutler said in a statement. “Our native fish runs deserve a fighting chance to thrive for many years to come, and this funding to tackle the sea lion problem on our rivers represents a vital step toward that goal.”