Oregon set for sea lion cull to save salmon

Federal funding has been secured to support a targeted cull of sea lions in the US state of Oregon, with the aim of protecting wild salmon. The cull will make use of a provision in the US Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) that allows the killing of protected species in exceptional circumstances.

US Representatives Jaime Herrera Beutler and Kurt Schrader had supported a joint Community Project Funding request for $892,000 (around £642,500) to fund a cull to protect endangered salmon, steelhead and other native fish species within the Columbia River system from sea lion predation.

Herrera Beutler said: “For too long, our Northwest fish numbers have been decimated by a growing population of sea lions moving into our region’s rivers to gorge on salmon, steelhead, and sturgeon. With sea lion control measures Rep. Schrader and I championed in 2018 now in motion, I’m pleased we were able to boost funding to implement these enhanced efforts and give our fish runs a fighting chance to survive and thrive for generations to come.”

The MMPA normally forbids any culling of marine mammals such as sea lions and seals, even when they pose a nuisance to commercial fish farms and fisheries. As the Act imposes import sanctions on any regions outside US jurisdiction that permit culling, it has the effect of imposing a similar ban on culls in other locations such as Scotland and Norway.

The Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation has previously called on the Scottish Government to compensate farmers for losses if a seal breaks into a salmon pen, given that they are now no longer allowed to shoot the animals even as a last resort.

A spokesperson for the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) explained: “The Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits the lethal ‘take’ (i.e. killing) of marine mammals, but provides a few limited exceptions including when local officials can lethally remove animals that are impacting Endangered Species Act-listed species or pose an immediate health and safety risk to people.

“MMPA Section 109(h) provides for the protection or welfare of the animals or public health and welfare by allowing federal, state, or local officials to humanely euthanise marine mammals that are suffering or causing immediate danger to people. This provision also allows for the non-lethal removal of an individual nuisance animal by local government officials, but not culling of an entire population.”

Permission for a take permit must be obtained from NOAA.

A joint statement from the two representatives behind the latest application also said: “Addressing the sea lion predation problem is just one part of an integrative salmon management strategy that involves other state, federal and tribal partners. The whole Pacific Northwest community must also continue working together on habitat restoration and appropriately managing fisheries and hatcheries.”

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